Even if Torah Bright never picked up a snowboard, she’d still be a pretty cool chick. She’s got brains, beauty, a sexy accent, etc. But add the fact she’s one of the best snowboarders in the world (she took home gold in the halfpipe at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics) and you’ve got a rather awesome Aussie—and one who can thoroughly kick your ass on the slopes. As she prepped to compete in three events at this month’s Sochi Olympics, we caught up with her to talk about her humble beginnings in the sport, what it’s like to be coached by her brother and how her religion helps her stay focused on the board.
“On my own in the snowboard world, I haven’t made too many costly mistakes because I choose not to take part in some of the recreational activities.”
You began on the slopes as a skier, right? When did you switch over to snowboarding?
Yes. Well, I lived right near the mountain in Australia, so I was two when I skied for the first time. And I was 11 when I tried snowboarding.
How did you become interested in snowboarding?
It actually wasn’t something I ever thought I’d try. I used to make fun of the snowboarders. I had all sorts of terrible names for them. But my brother’s friend was competing in a team snowboarding event and got hurt. Ben, my brother, was like, “I’ll do it, I’ll take his place.” And I thought, “Can I do that?” So I asked my mom if I could, too, and my brother and I took a lesson together because he had to learn on such short notice.
How did it go? Were you good right away?
We spent an hour with an instructor, and then just started going around the hill ourselves. Things come easy to young kids.
Your brother is your coach now. How did that happen?
Ben and I competed in the Junior World Championships in Europe. But then he and I branched off. We did our own things with different sponsors. We didn’t snowboard together again until the Torino Olympics. My brother lost his sponsor, so he said he would just come help me. He was only going to stay a short time while he figured out what he was doing. But we tried it and it worked, and now seven years later, we’re still here working together.
What sparked your interest in the halfpipe?
When I used to ski, I was a racer. The freestyle effect of snowboarding was exciting. I was always trying to find jumps around the mountain. The halfpipe was new for our area. At that point, I was riding with a lot of guys and few girls. We messed around on the halfpipe and I learned how to do it.
Yep, just your typical beautiful, smart, world-class snowboarding Mormon.
Did you feel like you had to keep up with the boys?
I was the young girl, and I didn’t want to hold anyone up. I wanted to be just as good. I didn’t want to be a burden. So every time I went out I was ready to shred hard.
You’re a proud Mormon. Does your religion play a role in how you approach snowboarding?
I think it does in a way, with my choices and the way I live my life. As a young kid growing up, it was easy to stay out of trouble. But on my own in the snowboard world, I haven’t made too many costly mistakes because I choose not to take part in some recreational activities. I do think that it helps me to focus on my love for the sport of snowboarding. And it helps with my fitness and my body. I treat my body right so I can and do live a healthy, happy lifestyle.
How did it feel to be the first Australian snowboarder to win gold?
It feels awesome! The Olympics is one day in four years that the whole world notices, and because winter sports aren’t big in Australia, it’s the one day my whole country cares what I do. It’s a lot of pressure, but to be able to deliver what was expected of me was the best feeling. Some athletes are multiple world champs who win this and that. But the one thing they can’t add is a gold medal at the Olympics because it’s just one day in four years.
You suffered two concussions while training for the 2010 Olympics. How did you overcome those injuries and win gold?
I had people monitoring me on a day-to-day basis. I was willing to accept that I may not be competing at the Olympics. When I flew into the village in Vancouver, I knew I was going to be checked out by doctors and if everything looked good, I was going to compete. And it just so happened that everything worked out to my advantage! In a way, those injuries helped me let go of all expectations from the media, my country and myself. I went out and rode and it was my day.
Will we see this again in Sochi? Maybe times three, actually.
On your first run, you fell. Were you nervous about continuing?
Falls like that happen all the time. I just brushed it off. Because I dropped last for the first run and the order was reversed for the second run, there wasn’t much waiting-around time. At the top of the mountain, I got my board on and was feeling pretty good for the second run. My brother looked over at me and said, “You know what you need to do.” Having no time in between runs was a total benefit to me. I had no time to question my abilities or myself. I only had time to think, “Another try, let’s do it.”
And how do you feel this time around going into the Games?
Everything is good. I’ve had lots of great experiences with the past two Olympics. I decided to try qualifying for all three events this time. Halfpipe used to be the only Olympic event. I’m really excited to have slopestyle and boardercross too. I don’t just snowboard because I love halfpipe or to compete. I like to have fun. Doing all three events, I’ve been out on the mountain riding all the time, way more than I used to be. I’m learning new things and loving it. I want to share that. I want to give back to the sport that has given me such a good life.