THE man who organised Southampton’s first snowboarding ‘freestyle’ sessions believes Billy Morgan’s achievements deserve to be recognised with Hampshire’s first snowdome – regardless of his performance at Sochi 2014 tomorrow.
Mike Hurd, a former manager of the Southampton Alpine Centre and a passionate supporter of the city’s snowboarding scene, promoted the ‘slopestyle’ events that helped inspire Billy to take up the sport in 2003.
He will be back in the grounds of the Southampton Sports Centre early tomorrow morning, with several other supporters of Billy, to watch the Winter Olympics’ first slopestyle semi-final on a big screen at The View.
Billy’s heat is scheduled to begin at 5.30am, with four places up for grabs in the 12-man final (8.45am).
But Mike reckons the 24 year-old’s achievements already deserve to be rewarded with more facilities for Southampton’s snow sports community than the alpine centre’s dry slope, which Billy described as “a bunch of upturned toothbrushes” in a recent interview.
“It’s already a fantastic achievement to go from Southampton to the Winter Olympics, Billy deserves a lot of credit just for being there,” said Mike.
“But if there’s a political point to be made it’s that he’s done it without living near a snowdome and, until the last year or two, without funding.
“Billy’s self-belief is remarkable, what he’s achieved is all down to him – and, in the last few months, his physio.
“But if he hadn’t had some lucky breaks he might not be where he is now.
“It’s a rags-to-riches story that makes you wonder how many other people have missed out.
“We need to be better at supporting our winter sports athletes.
“What we really need is a suitable snowdome complex to cater for all winter sports, it would benefit a lot of people.
“Billy had to go all the way to The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead for his first snowboarding session after his knee injury.
“That’s a three-hour round trip - you could get to the Alps in that time! We need an equivalent down here.”
Plans for just that were lined up for a site on the Itchen Riverside, before being scrapped 18 months ago.
If Billy reaches tomorrow’s final, support for a snowdome would gather momentum, maybe in the form of a campaign like Back The Track, which is being launched on Monday in a bid to improve the sports centre’s dilapidated athletics facilities.
Meanwhile, at least the alpine centre on Thornhill Road is benefiting from a boost in revenue thanks to budding Billy Morgans.
Mike, who has been a snowboarding instructor for more than 20 years, recalls Billy’s first visits to the venue a decade ago.
“There’s no doubt the dry slope played a fundamental role in his early development, along with his accro-gymnastic background,” says Mike.
“Billy was a natural, his gymnastics was something he applied to snowboarding in a very disciplined way.
“A lot of snowboarders think they can just launch themselves off jumps but he’s got a much more scientific approach because of his gymnastics.
“That’s why he’s progressed so quickly. He’s also really dedicated with his training, as you would expect of an Olympian.”
Three seasons in the French resort of Morzine in his late teens accelerated Billy’s progress, but he has stayed in close contact with Mike.
“Billy’s also a fantastic role model, a really good guy who’s already giving his own time back to the community,” says Mike, who works at St Edward's School, a special school providing care and education for boys who experience behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, in Sherfield English, nr Romsey.
“He regularly comes along to our school to engage with our pupils, presenting awards and participating in activities like motocross.
“Many of our pupils have also had the opportunity to snowboard with him, so everyone here wishes him well.
“We’ll have our fingers crossed during the semi-final.
“If he gets through or even medals, his achievements will inspire a greater interest in winter sports scene in the south. He’s a very positive role model.”
Billy is bidding to join his Team GB teammate Jamie Nicholls in the final, having received a disappointingly low score of 85.5 after performing the ‘backside triple cork’ during his second and final run on Thursday.
Many riders were surprised by the judges’ scores during the slopestyle qualifying round, the first Winter Olympic event to take place before the opening ceremony for 30 years.
“It was clear from the judging that Billy’s big trick is not the flavour of the month,” said Mike.
“So far, it seems the ‘triple rodeo’ is not going to win the Olympics.
“They seem to favour the more traditional flat spin, which just involves rotations rather than spins combined with twists.
“But Billy kept it together, he was very professional and can adapt. He has a lot more in his bag of tricks so is still very capable of getting a podium finish.
“But just having two Britons in the final would be phenomenal.”