“Who is she?”

That’s a pipeside FAQ (frequently asked question) following sightings of Nicola Thost the last two years. When this 21 year old from Pforzheim (outside Stuttgart), Germany drops in-her mighty halfpipe style, signature tweaked-backside stiffies, popped more in the stratosphere neighborhood of the best guys rather than girls-heads turn, then roll.

An acknowledged threat going into ’97/98 contests, Thost announced her presence in a way few riders dream of, let alone realize. Handplants-down she was the winner of the first Olympic halfpipe gold medal; then a month later she drew a decisive U-jump win at the U.S. Open amidst an international field Olympic deep. She was on top of her game and the winners’ stand in a way not seen since the late 80s Petra Müssig. In just one season, Thost became a superpower for herself, women’s halfpipe, and European freestyle. It could be some time before her identity comes into question again.

Quite a season you had.

Maybe there is some reason. It was the first season I wasn’t in school anymore, so I got a lot more consistency in my runs. Two seasons ago I had a lot of bad luck.

I either bomb out or I win, 50-50. I want to go 100 percent. I can’t do security runs. I always want to show what I can do. Otherwise, why would I snowboard? I could still lose as often as I did before.

Do you feel more pressure to perform?

No. As soon as I’m on my board on the snow, I don’t think about that stuff. Everyone has the same chance. It’s totally open. People are always asking me about competition, it makes me have to think about it all the time. Competition is a small part-even if I do a lot I want to have fun riding, improve, figure out new stuff, go bigger, and also ride different things, experience all that. It doesn’t help you to be successful being too focused on one thing.

What have you done to unwind?

This summer I haven’t been riding. I went windsurfing; it’s a young scene, they have a good attitude. That helps for competition-there’re so many things that have to come together. To improve your riding you have to improve your mind. It’s not that I couldn’t stand it anymore, I couldn’t get a clear picture so I had to step out. Now I’m totally motivated again and it’s like the beginning-not taking it for granted or seeing it like a job.

Did last season seem like a job?

Not doing the sport. I had to talk about the sport and not have time to do it. You have to explain ten years of a sport in three minutes? If a tennis player talks, everyone knows what tennis is. It would be best to tell them just do it and figure it out for themselves.

Do you get a lot of attention?

In our town of 100,000 I had the cover newspaper page for three days. I couldn’t go anywhere without people coming up to me or staring. In the beginning you’re just stoked. After a while it’s not that fun anymore to be treated differently than everyone else. You feel more like an outsider than anything. That was just in the beginning, now everything is fine.

Where did you grow up?

I’m living in Munich now, but Pforzheim is near France and the Swiss Alps-still four hours to get to the mountains. I started skiing when I was three. We went on holiday all the time-I had a chance to touch the snow. Nineteen-niety was the first year I tried snowboarding, then I always took the train on weekends to go. I was in school so I had to start at five in the morning on Saturdays and would come home on Sunday night-tired for the whole week. I really loved it. The main reason was to be out in the mountains and nature. To play in nature, more or less.

Where did you ride?

Oberstdors ski area near the border between Germany and Austria. My friends went, too. The people riding there were big heroes to me. My older brother snowboards, so does my younger brother. My older brother Oliver, 24 taught me in the beginning. “Put all your weight on theack foot and turn. And don’t cry like a girl.” He wasn’t patient with me, so it was hard. I really wanted to show him I could do it. He’s not doing competitions but he still snowboards. Do you really think people are interested in this stuff?

Interested in you.

The people I rode with told me to enter contests. I went to a regional contest just for fun and won, and got a big trophy. At first, there weren’t many girls and they were scared to try. I remember there was a gap jump and super bad weather. I’d never done a gap one but I thought I had to. There were guys who didn’t do it because we couldn’t see. I never saw any big danger.

Any secret to riding pipe?

I came from gymnastics. I never believed it helped me a lot, but it helped my mind. You have to do things you’re scared of in the beginning, but ignore the fact that you’re scared. Sometimes you fall and injure yourself, but you try again. Training muscles in strength and flexibility influences my snowboarding. I did gymnastics from age ten to seventeen. At eighteen you’re already really old for that sport. I did regional competitions.

How’d you do?

I won a lot-if I do something, I want to do it 100 percent.

Does the snowboarding’s focus in North America bother you?

No, not at all. I can’t say which was more fun to win, the Olympics or the U.S. Open. They’re so different you can’t compare.

One was pressure, the other fun?

Todd Richards had so much pressure on his shoulders. The people all root for their nation. Everyone’s expecting you to win. The Olympics seem more important in Europe than the States. Americans push where they’re the best. In Europe it doesn’t matter-for each nation it’s only important how many medals altogether you won.

You’re considered a global sports-star.

I switched off my cell phone and told my parents not to give my phone number to any press. I got injured just before the Olympics at the X-Games. I landed on my back and was really hurt for two weeks. My parents wanted to go watch me in the Olympics, and that was one of the main reasons I even went. I couldn’t say I was injured and not go. After one day of training I flew to Japan. Maybe some people couldn’t handle the pressure of such a big event. I didn’t have any media pressure because I didn’t let them the media pressure me.

What do you think was the Olympics greatest impact?

Kids thinking, “One day I want to snowboard in the Olympics.” For snowboarding we never really needed the Olympics, so it was hard to be prepared for such a big event. People asked me so many things I never even thought about, but they needed an answer so I had to give them one. For each nation there was different pressure. The media plays with you. They decide whether you’re a star or not. I’m glad it doesn’t really matter with snowboarding. We have a lot of different ways to represent the level of riding.

What are your other sports?

Windsurfing. I grew up with sports so I’m interested in trying all sorts of stuff. I’m doing a lot of swimming and mountain biking. I’ve tried ice skating and golf. Golf is a really interesting sport-it’s really quiet, you use your brain a lot more than your body. I think you need different activities to concentrate on, to use your mind in sports as well. For instance you have to force yourself to use your brain in school instead of just watching television.

What have you forced on your brain lately?

I’ve designed my own Web page on a laptop. It’s not online because I haven’t finished it yet. I work with a guy who tells me how to do it: update it, pictures, profiles, links to my sponsors; I can tell stories, whatever I feel like. It’s going to be in English so everyone can read it. The Internet is global so you have to have a global language. I’m interested in the Internet because you can talk to people all over. You don’t know what they look like, so you try to figure out who it is.

Are you comfortable dealing in English?

It’s definitely my second language. I’m practicing French as well. It’s super important to know many languages. When you travel to different countries you can really learn about them. For American people it’s hard, they don’t understand other languages and maybe can’t understand other cultures. They don’t really have the chance; it’s a different education. In Europe, everybody speaks other languages. I started to learn Spanish without a teacher, but it’s totally hard. The easiest way is to be in the country and hear the language all the time, then you can really learn.

Do you wish more things were in German?

No. Some things are harder to explain in English but once you get used to it, it’s easier to express feelings, I don’t know why, there’re more words you can use. But you don’t know if people understand what you’re trying to say. When you’re drunk, it’s hard. When you’re super drunk, it’s a lot harder.

Anything left to wish for?

I wish I had a VCR because I like to watch movies. The place I live now doesn’t have TV-too much commercials and bullshit. It’s like watching what other people are doing instead of doing it yourself.

Pull Quote

I bet if you ask young riders about the Olympics, they’d say, “What? Four years from now? I don’t know what I would say in two!” Four years ago I wasn’t even qualified for World Cup competition.

Are you comfortable dealing in English?

It’s definitely my second language. I’m practicing French as well. It’s super important to know many languages. When you travel to different countries you can really learn about them. For American people it’s hard, they don’t understand other languages and maybe can’t understand other cultures. They don’t really have the chance; it’s a different education. In Europe, everybody speaks other languages. I started to learn Spanish without a teacher, but it’s totally hard. The easiest way is to be in the country and hear the language all the time, then you can really learn.

Do you wish more things were in German?

No. Some things are harder to explain in English but once you get used to it, it’s easier to express feelings, I don’t know why, there’re more words you can use. But you don’t know if people understand what you’re trying to say. When you’re drunk, it’s hard. When you’re super drunk, it’s a lot harder.

Anything left to wish for?

I wish I had a VCR because I like to watch movies. The place I live now doesn’t have TV-too much commercials and bullshit. It’s like watching what other people are doing instead of doing it yourself.

Pull Quote

I bet if you ask young riders about the Olympics, they’d say, “What? Four years from now? I don’t know what I would say in two!” Four years ago I wasn’t even qualified for World Cup competition.