HE did not learn to snowboard until he was in his teens, but tomorrow morning Billy Morgan will begin his bid to win Britain’s first-ever Olympic medal on snow.
The 24 year-old from Shirley continues his remarkable journey when the Slopestyle qualifiers begin at Sochi 2014.
Unlike his rivals, Billy did not pick up a snowboard until he was 14 and was 17 when he first transferred his skills from the artificial slope at the Southampton Alpine Centre to the real thing.
“As a nipper he was always skateboarding and roller-blading outside our house in Stanton Road, making a racket with his jumps,” laughs his dad, Eddie.
“Billy did everything; he also liked motocross and he loved doing jumps on his mountain bike up at Lordshill.
“But his gymnastics helped prepare him for snowboarding more than anything. He and his older brother Ashley were very active gymnasts.
“Both of them were in the British team for their age group and a lot of what Billy does now is down to the tumbling and twisting he did as a gymnast, beginning with roly polies as a toddler.”
Older brother Ashley uses his aerial awareness skills as a helicopter navigator in the Royal Navy, while Billy developed his on a snowboard at the Southampton Alpine Centre, Thornhill Road.
“He joined a club called the Illegal Boarders and found he had a natural eye for it,” continues Eddie, a marine engineer who was inspired to take up skiing in his fifties by his youngest son.
“Then he did a few seasons in France, staying in a friend’s chalet. Ashley became a lieutenant in the Royal Navy but Billy didn’t know what to do until he fell into this. He got better and better, started getting sponsorships and it’s gone from there.”
Eddie and Joanne, an administrator at Southampton General, were persuaded not to travel to Sochi by their son, so will be watching at home in Shirley when the qualifiers begin at 6am.
“I was tempted to go but none of Billy’s mates are going, he said we wouldn’t be able to see him in the Olympic Village so we’re all going to watch the finals together on Saturday morning, assuming he qualifies,” explains Eddie.
There were fears Billy would not make Sochi when he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee back in September.
“That happened at the worst possible time, he missed quite a lot of the season, but was in good hands with his physio, Dean Cook,” says Eddie, 60. “It was comforting to know he could still go and a big relief to see him come through his first session after the injury at the snowdome in Hemel Hempstead.”
Billy did not have time to undergo an operation so a bespoke brace is compensating for the absence of the ACL in his right knee.
More painful on his final day’s practice was a grazed buttock that he wasted no time in sharing on his social media platforms.
“That’s gone everywhere but the brace is doing its job which is the main thing,” laughs his dad. “He’s got to take it easy, it only takes one fall to get a bad injury and put you out of the competition, like we saw with the Norwegian.”
Billy’s medal chances improved when Torstein Horgmo crashed out with a broken collarbone on the first day’s practice and were boosted again when US superstar Shaun White withdrew from the slopestyle competition yesterday, partly because of the controversial course, which has been deemed too dangerous by many competitors.