By Karen Price | Jan. 19, 2018, 4:30 p.m. (ET)
 

 

Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by Milk Life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.

They say laughter is the best medicine, but for Olympic halfpipe skiing gold medalist Maddie Bowman, it’s also the best way to start a run.

Whether it’s a little joke she tells or someone tells her, she likes dropping into the halfpipe with a smile, as was the case just before her gold-medal-winning run at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.

“I messed up my first run, but I made it up as I went along and pulled it off, so I was like, ‘Alright, if I can do a run where I totally screw up and did a great run, I can definitely do the run I’ve been practicing for month and months,’” she said. “So I made a little joke and dropped in and it was awesome. …

“I love hearing a joke or telling a joke at the top of a run. It always happens naturally and gives you a little smile and reminds me that I’m out here just doing this for fun. That’s the most important thing, that I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I love dropping in after a little laugh.”

Bowman officially clinched her spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team last week. Since winning gold in Sochi four years ago in the event’s Olympic debut, she has remained among the best in her sport, continuing to show off her technical prowess while working on her focus leading up to the Games, which has been her flow. 

With back-to-back 900s and a switch 900, in which the skier does two and a half rotations, Bowman has always had a foundation of strong technical skills. She likes to spin both ways and ski switch, where the skier takes off or lands a trick going backward, which helps show the judges how comfortable the athlete is on his or her skis, and to make her runs as hard as she can with the tricks in her playbook.

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Lately, though, she’s been trying to incorporate different highlights into her runs.

“I’ve been focusing really hard on bringing in other elements to my runs like grabbing and amplitude,” said the recently turned 24-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, California. “I’ve found a lot of joy in that recently and some success, so it’s nice.” 

Getting through an Olympic quad always has its share of challenges, whether it’s injuries or surgeries, both of which Bowman has experienced, to keeping the passion going and remembering the love of the sport. Add in the pressure that can come with having the words “Olympic gold medalist” precede your name at every competition and the struggle can be even greater.

Bowman said what’s helped her since Sochi is becoming more comfortable with who she is as a skier and with going after things that are hard for her, which wasn’t always easy to do. Being able to share the experience of competing and traveling the world with her Team USA friends and the people she meets along the way also helps.

When it comes to the sport in general, she said she believes it has both changed and not changed since Sochi. One of the ways she is excited for its growth, however, is with the emergence of young and creative skiers including Jake Mageau and 2016 Youth Olympic medalist Alex Hall.

“Those kids are really pushing this — and it’s always been there but is growing a lot — this super creative and inspiring take on skiing,” she said. “Watching those guys ski, I went up to Jake one day and was like, ‘I love watching you ski.’ He just oozes inspiration and creativity, and I struggle to find that sometimes. I think it’s so inspiring, and that’s what freeskiing is all about. I’m happy that side of it is really growing and I think it’s super cool.”

The past few weeks have been full of pressure on all the athletes trying to make the Olympic team, Bowman said, but she knew that if she just had fun and did what she knows she can do, then it will all work out. 

“I’m just focused on finding that flow in my skiing and really enjoying it,” she said. “I’m just kind of in this exploration zone in my skiing, where I think everything I’ve worked on is coming together. I’m just focused on enjoying that process and having a good time.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.