Go For The Gold


Freeskier Torin Yater-Wallace poses during the NBC Olympics/
United States Olympic Committee photo shoot in West Hollywood,
Calif. in April 2013.

Injuries are keeping several athletes from competing at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. But not Torin Yater-Wallace.

Since the end of November, the halfpipe freeskier has suffered two collapsed lungs, two “badly broken” ribs, and “very sharp pain” under his left rib cage — all injuries posted on Twitter — and he spent about two weeks total in the hospital. He turned 18 in early December during one of those hospital stays. After he broke his ribs practicing for the Dew Tour (the first Olympic qualifier), he tweeted, “I hate the word Sochi.”

Yater-Wallace wasn’t able to ski again until Jan. 15, and then only “mellow, no competing,” he wrote on Facebook. But then on Jan. 21, he was named as a discretionary pick for the first U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team.

“Made the Olympics,” he tweeted, with an emoticon of disbelief. “This gon (sic) be some madness.”

The men’s freeski halfpipe is scheduled for the second week of the Olympic Winter Games, on Tuesday, Feb. 18, giving Yater-Wallace over two months of recovery. Can he regain the form that earned him top-3 finishes at Winter X Games, European X Games, FIS World Championships and several world cups?

“Now we're at a point that we feel he's going to be 100 percent when it comes time to drop into that pipe in Sochi,” Mike Jankowski, head coach of the U.S. freeskiing and snowboarding teams, told USA Today during the Winter X Games. “He's already almost there, as is evident in his riding here in Aspen. We’re just pacing it and really preparing for Sochi and being ready to win a gold medal.”

Yater-Wallace’s meteoric rise in the freeskiing world began only three years ago when, as a high school freshman, he qualified for his first Winter X Games. Raised in Basalt, Colo., just down the road from Aspen — home to Winter X for the past 13 years — he had been inspired to compete in Winter X since first grade when he ditched school to watch the halfpipe. Sitting in the bleachers, he was in awe of freeskiers like Tanner Hall and Simon Dumont flying high above the ‘pipe walls.

Torin Yater-Wallace performs during the men's ski
superpipe final during the Winter X Games Europe 2013
on March 22, 2013 in Tignes, France

“I definitely looked up to all of them,” said Yater-Wallace. “They’re the best, doing crazy stuff that I’d never seen before, and I loved it. It made me set goals to be in the X Games and to win.”

In December 2010, when Yater-Wallace was a freshman at Aspen High School, he earned a spot competing in the Winter Dew Tour, where he made the finals and finished fifth. On New Year’s Eve, he was invited to compete in the 2011 Winter X Games. He made finals, finishing second behind Kevin Rolland from France and ahead of his idol Dumont.

“It was crazy to even be in the finals, just being ahead of any of those guys was insane for me,” Yater-Wallace said.

Many of his competitors were stunned.

“All of a sudden, he was on the scene, and he was podiuming at events, and it was like whoa, where did this kid come from?” said two-time Winter X gold medalist David Wise. (Wise finished seventh in superpipe at 2011 Winter X.)

Since his Winter X debut, Yater-Wallace has competed in five more Winter X Games — in Aspen and Tignes, France — winning medals (including two gold) in each one. Now a senior in high school (he takes classes online), he’s headed for his first Olympic Winter Games.

What makes him so good? Part of Yater-Wallace’s talent is genetic: His grandfather is Reynolds “Renny” Yater, legendary surfboard maker in Santa Barbara, Calif., who’s credited with influencing surfing in a quiet, cool manner for over 50 years.

But the 18-year-old freeskiing prodigy is not relying on talent alone. His coaches credit his drive, heart and work ethic for his success.

“He’s got that competitive spirit that really pushes him to always go fast, always go big, and always be ahead of the pack,” said Mike Jankowski after Yater-Wallace won his first Dew Tour title in 2012.

Elana Chase, one of Yater-Wallace’s coaches in Colorado, noted his willingness to do basic drills and the fact that he always showed up for training, not to mention his love for the sport.

For his part, Yater-Wallace said his early years as a mogul skier helped shape his freeskiing skills. He always wanted to do tricks on his skis, so his mom signed him up for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s moguls program when he was 7, and he soon discovered the terrain park. He’s now known for his amplitude in the halfpipe, style in his tricks, and smooth transitions. And as freeskiing pioneer Simon Dumont said, “He’s always going for broke.”

Last season, Yater-Wallace was on the podium in every competition that he entered, including the FIS World Championships. Asked what led to his consistency, especially after having shoulder surgery in 2012 to tighten up the easily dislocated joint, he said he’s really not sure, “I suppose [I’m] just more experienced with competing.”

In many of those competitions, he was battling closely with David Wise, and the two men seem to push each other. Wise won the 2013 World Championships while Yater-Wallace was second.

“Torin and I are constantly going back and forth creating new things that haven’t been done,” said Wise.

“We are friends, but we’re also incredible rivals,” he added. “I’m never going to sit back and just let that kid win anything. It’s always going to be a battle, and he’s the same way.”

Last season, Wise created a couple new tricks that he thought would give him an edge on the competition.

“All of a sudden, here’s Torin nipping at my heels again,” he said. “He encourages me to keep progressing, keep progressing.”

The question about whether or not Yater-Wallace could be competing at full speed so soon after serious injury was answered at the Winter X Games. On Jan. 22, only a week after he started skiing again — and two days after the U.S. Ski Team called to tell him that he would be going to Sochi — he competed in Winter X and was stoked to make finals.

He ended up pulling out of the finals to allow his ribs to continue healing. He was bummed, but “stoked for Russia.”

Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.