German ruler Nicola Thost comes on strong, finishes big.

Twenty-year-old Nicola Thost, from Pforzheim in southwestern Germany, says her gold-medal halfpipe win in Nagano has changed other people more than it has her. Now she’s only asked how it feels to have won the precious gold nugget. People should ask what it’s like to be the highest-flying and most technically proficient rider in women’s freestyle. Thost showed up late for Olympic practice, but nonetheless on Game day she dominated the finals-all in soppy spongeboarding conditions. With easily the most amplitude, Thost stayed consistent enough to put up two of the day’s highest scores and claim her prize.

She hasn’t looked back since.

How was your Olympic experience?

I only did two FIS International Ski Federation comps because I had to. I’m not doing any more. I’m with the ISF International Snowboard Federation. There are a lot of old, big guys in the FIS who don’t have a clue about snowboarding, they’re the ones who decide snowboarding’s fate in the Olympics. A lot of old tradition … I don’t think it’s the right way. We’re a new generation, a young sport, an innovative sport, we should be able to change things. It Olympics settled nothing different than all the other competitions. I wouldn’t have gone if my parents hadn’t have been there. I was happy before that. I didn’t need the Olympics to be happy with my sport. I’m still the same. People expect you to be freaking out. I’ve had other results, or maybe a freeriding day, that made me feel the same way.

Did you like how the sport was represented?

Snowboarding is not what was shown in the Olympics-that’s just a small part. It’s so much more altogether. For all other sports’ athletes, it’s the Olympics the only goal they have. Once they have a gold medal they say, “Oh, now I can settle down.”

For me, I just started.

How do you think it might have gone better?

It was way too early for snowboarding to be Olympic. You can’t define it with some simple words. It’s snowboarding a whole lifestyle, attitude, whatever. Wearing all the same clothing, having your coach standing down there telling you what to do-we have the chance to decide for ourselves what we want to do, how we want to represent ourselves and our sport. The other athletes are tools of the coaches, or their teams, or their country, of the whole market. Snowboarders represented by snowboarders-we should appreciate that and just be aware of it.

Why did you go?

Maybe it’s a paradox-”On one hand she said it’s not good to have snowboarding in the Olympics, on the other hand she went.” The girls, we had a good level of riding, that’s one reason. Second was for my parents, my whole family, and then the chance to win the medal. Actually, I never thought about that before. I never thought about winning. Snowboarding is not only riding the pipe. It’s not supposed to be like other sports are-ruled by people who don’t even snowboard, big money, big power. That’s what I try to do now, take the chance the media is offering.

Did you know going into the Olympics that they were going to test for illegal drugs?

I knew it. Yeah, they told me. They’ve got tons of people-coaches, physical trainers, medicine people-who know everything about these drug things, they’re tools used by a big … whatever, company machine. Even if you look at the Summer Games, it’s ridiculous-they Olympic officials want to tell me they Summer Games athletes don’t use any drugs?

Maybe there are some snowboarders who like to do that partying, but there are also other people-all kinds of different characters.

Will you be there to defend your title in Salt Lake 2002?

Maybe, I’ll decide four days before. Before the Olympics nobody cared about it. That was fine with me.

-Billy Miller