From Sheffield to Sochi: the Steel City’s Winter Olympic stars

Katie Summerhayes - Freestyle Skiing Photographs
Katie Summerhayes - Freestyle Skiing Photographs
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From the snow-starved, steel-shaped landscapes of Sheffield, to the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

It has been quite an adventure for James ‘Woodsy’ Woods, Katie Summerhayes and James Machon, three of Sheffield’s skiing stars who flew to Russia today to pursue their Winter Olympic dreams.

James Woods

James Woods

The 2014 Games, which get underway on February 7, will be the first taste of the Olympics for the trio, who have been working towards this moment for the best part of two years.

The Steel City trio are seen as Team GB’s best hopes of podium finishes at Sochi, and for good reason.

Woods, still only 22 years of age, has become a freestyle skiing icon, and travels to Sochi as the world number one in his field.

His best friend Summerhayes, the youngest of the trio aged just 18, spent most of 2013 working her way back to full fitness, after rupturing anterior cruciate ligaments back in 2012.

Katie Summerhayes

Katie Summerhayes

And Machon, a four-time British halfpipe champion, counts himself lucky to be alive, never mind travelling to Sochi, after overcoming a life-threatening illness last year.

Woods hasn’t had an easy ride to the top, either, overcoming a series of injuries ranging from the obvious concussion, to the potentially-damaging broken vertebrae.

He does travel to Sochi damaged, however - not physically, but mentally after a disappointing finish at the prestigious Aspen X Games.

After two runs, Woods scored a total of 79 points – meaning he missed out on a place in the final by 3.3 points. The narrowest of margins.

James Machon

James Machon

“It was a little disappointing, to finish outside of the top eight, Woods, whose hairstyle has led to comparisons with American snowboarding legend Shaun White, said.

“Perhaps I was being too creative, pushed the boundaries too far, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

That one setback aside, Woods has been busy racking up the medals and accolades.

Woods, who was awarded the FIS Crystal Globe last year, became Britain’s first freestyle medal winner at a World Championships for 20 years.

He then added the World Cup title, and a Winter X Games bronze just for good measure - and is now in the hunt for Olympic glory.

“Last year was amazing,” Woods added.

“I set myself the goal of going to the Olympics as world number one, and I worked so hard to achieve that.

“It was wonderful to get there, just before a tournament like the Olympics.

“Not everyone gets an opportunity like this.”

Summerhayes, though, has a very different story to tell about her journey to Sochi. The teenager, who carried the flag at the Youth Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, required reconstructive knee surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation spell after an accident on Mammoth Mountain in America back in 2012.

And she admits that she was overcome with relief, rather than joy, when she got the call in the early hours of Wednesday morning confirming that she would be given the chance to challenge for a medal in Sochi.

“I have worked so hard over the past two years and I was so happy that everything paid off in the end,” Summerhayes admitted.

“Everyone wants to compete at the Olympics; they are the pinnacle of anyone’s career and to have our sport in schedule of the Olympics for the first time is amazing.”

With only a month to go before the final selection, Summerhayes had one final chance to impress the selectors as she flew out to Gstaad, Switzerland, to compete in the World Cup.

Despite it only being her second competition since recovering from her career-threatening injury, Summerhayes repeated the same feat she had achieved a year before and won a silver medal, after being narrowly beaten by Lisa Zimmerman.

Summerhayes, though, gives the impression that while a medal in Sochi would be great, she is just happy to be back on the slopes doing what she loves.

“My schedule was really messed up by my injury,” she added. “But and I am ready to put that behind me and concentrate on doing my best in Sochi.”

Machon, too, has also completed his own extraordinary journey to Sochi, after overcoming not only career-threatening injuries, but also a life threatening infection.

“I wasn’t able to compete last year at all,” he remembers.

“I tore my anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus at the start of season training in Austria.

“After my initial surgery, I was admitted to hospital again three different times before finding out I had a life-threatening infection.

“I was very unlucky, but in some ways very lucky to still be here.”

After a lengthy rehabilitation spell, Machon still had a lot of work to do to achieve the required World top 30 ranking ahead of the Sochi Games.

On the slopes of Breckenridge, Colorado, Machon pulled out all the stops in the final Olympic qualifier in what he describes as his ‘most important competition’ to date.

“I was ranked 32nd [before Breckenridge] so the pressure was on,” he says.

“I added a new trick in my run, the unnatural 1080, which scored me my personal best and I moved into 29th in the World standings.

“That was a massive day for me. The hard work has been done now and I can go to Sochi and just enjoy it.

“That’s when I ski my best.”

After investing £14million into GB’s winter sports, UK Sport set an ambitious target of seven podium finishes.

And come the end of the games, Sheffield may very well have three of them.