Team GB’s Kirsty Muir: ‘When I'm in the air, it feels like I'm flying’

Scottish freestyle skiing sensation has been described as a ‘once in a generation’ talent as she bids for Winter Olympic glory in Beijing

‘When you are up in the air, it almost feels like you’re flying,” says Kirsty Muir, the youngest member of Britain’s Winter Olympic team, as she describes the sensation when her body is twirling like a spinning top high above ground. “When you are doing an easier trick, like a 360, everything seems to slow down. There’s time to look around. To see the world. And then comes this spectacular rush of adrenaline when you land.”

Muir is 17 but her name has been on people’s lips ever since, at 13, she won three events in the BRITS championship against a star-studded – and significantly older – field. Medals at the Europa Cup, Junior World Championships and the Youth Olympics followed, before she achieved her first World Cup podium place in Colorado last year. Yet that may only hint at her potential. Lesley McKenna, a three-time Olympian and programme manager at GB Snowsport reckons Muir is a “once in a generation” talent.

Certainly Muir is improving so quickly that a medal in Beijing is not out of the question. Her best chance is probably in slopestyle, in which athletes ski a course which includes a variety of obstacles and ramps, and earn points for their quality and originality of their manoeuvres. But the unpredictability of big air, which requires skiers to launch from an enormous ramp and perform jaw-dropping tricks, also offers a realistic shot at glory.

Does she believe she can do it? “I’m telling myself that I should only think about my performance,” she says. “If I do my best run, but the other girls go better than me, I will still be happy.”

There are two huge things in Muir’s favour: talent and temperament. Both attributes merged when she came second in the World Cup slopestyle in Colorado last March. “That was my breakthrough moment,” she says. “But it didn’t start well as I crashed and broke my thumb and tore a ligament on the first of my two qualifying runs.”

Not that it stopped her. “In between runs I went to the physio, and I remember my coach saying to me, ‘Just give it a bit of a squeeze so you can get the adrenaline out now.’ It did the trick and I did a run that got me through to the finals. I then had to go to hospital to get a brace on my thumb before the final two days later. And it was there I landed my dub 12 for first time in competition - which got me into second.”

Kirsty Muir says learning to ski in Scotland helped due to the need to dodge heather and rocks.
Kirsty Muir says learning to ski in Scotland helped due to the need to dodge heather and rocks. Photograph: Sam Mellish/Alamy

The dub 12, in which the skier has to make three full 360º rotations with an extra 180º in the switch landing, is Muir’s signature move. But it took time to get right. “Learning the trick, with all the progressions, took maybe two years. I started by using a trampoline and going into the airbag then taking it to snow. There’s a lot going on.”

When she races on the slopestyle course in Beijing she will encounter a replica of the Great Wall of China as well as a rail on top of a house. “I’m going to try that feature, even though it’s going to be scary,” she says, laughing. To calm the nerves, she listens to music - usually the Arctic Monkeys - when she competes. “It takes the focus off the competition and on to skiing.”

What makes Muir’s achievements more impressive is that she has combined them with studying for her Scottish Highers. Last year she took biology, while in the summer she will do chemistry, history and PE. “If I want to go to university I have to apply in the next two days,” she says when we speak on Wednesday. “And I haven’t started yet. But I think I will apply.”

Kirsty Muir’s signature move, the dub 12, involves three full 360º rotations.
Kirsty Muir’s signature move, the dub 12, involves three full 360º rotations. Photograph: Valentin Flauraud/EPA-EFE

So what makes her so good? Muir attributes it partly to learning to ski in Aberdeen, aged three. “When you ski in Scotland you are having to dodge all the heather and ice and rocks, which are good skills to have,” she says. “When you go on trips the snow is usually much smoother, but having a good skiing technique really helps to manoeuvre between the different features and ski well into the jumps.”

Having a multisport background was also important. “I was maybe six or seven when I properly started freestyle,” she says. “Like most kids, I was put into every sport just to see what I liked. So I was doing some gymnastics, then trampolining, and I just kind of progressively got into thinking: ‘that’s what I want to do’. The final thing is determination. It is a hard sport and you know you’re going to take quite heavy crashes, so you need to be determined to get through it.”

That is something Muir has in spades. So what might lie ahead in Beijing? “I don’t want to put any pressure on myself. But I also want to be proud of what I do there.”


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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