The younger sister of Britain’s first Olympic skiing medallist, Freeskier Zoe Atkin is ready to take on Beijing, but she’s also here to remind us that it’s about having fun.
Family connections have been a bit of a recurring theme within British snowsport ranks over the years. The 1980s and 90s famously saw Martin and Graham Bell competing for Britain at a succession of Olympic Winter Games and World Championships, with Martin’s daughter, Reece, now among the newest additions to the nation’s World Cup ranks. The Gerken Schofield siblings have been leading the way for British moguls skiing, with all three frequently competing in the same World Cup competitions. In Alpine, Dave Ryding’s sister, Jo, is part of the Para Alpine coaching team, while Charlie Guest’s sister, Katie, competes as guide to Para Alpine star Menna Fitzpatrick.
One of the most talked about sibling pairs is Zoe and Izzy Atkin, the US-born Freeski sensations, and speaking to Zoe, the younger of the sisters, it’s clear how important that family connection is. “Izzy’s been the biggest influence on my career,” the 19-year-old explains. “I started freestyle skiing because of her, and everything I’ve accomplished is as a result of her opening the doors of possibility for me.”
Despite her tender age, those accomplishments are beginning to rack up: a run of World Cup top-10s dating back to her second ever WC competition in 2019; a 2019 gold medal at Copper Mountain World Cup; a silver at 2021’s Aspen World Cup, and a bronze at the 2021 World Championships at the same venue. The seeds of those performances are something that Atkin traces back to her sister’s influence. “When I was younger, I remember learning a new trick and running straight to dad (Mike, a Brit and the reason the Atkin sisters compete for GB) to ask him if I’d learned it at a younger age than Izzy did!”.
Despite the youthful rivalry, there’s a serious side too. “I never really thought I could win a World Cup or World Championship medal,” Atkin explains, “until my sister did. From then it felt like a possibility, and something I could achieve too.”
Incredible season opener from Zoe Atkin winning Gold in the Copper Mountain Grand Prix FIS Freestyle Halfpipe World Cup 🥇 pic.twitter.com/vNCJ1ocL0f
— GB Snowsport (@GBSnowsport) December 13, 2019
Izzy’s name is already written into British skiing folklore with her 2018 Slopestyle bronze in PyeongChang marking the first Olympic medal won by a British skier, and 2022 seemed set to take both Atkin sisters to the Games, before the elder sister suffered a nasty pre-tournament injury in training which ruled her out of the competition. Her recovery efforts were so impressive that she was flown out to Beijing in the hope of a last-minute medical reprieve, but was ultimately deemed unable to compete. For Zoe, some of the pain of being unable to compete alongside her sister is tempered by the fraternal nature of the Freeski discipline. “There’s definitely competition, but everybody’s so nice and has amazing sportsmanship”, a factor she puts down to the amount of time spent training and competing together. “You’re basically stuck with the same people on the circuit during training camps and competitions, so you kinda have to be friends!” she says, laughingly.
That sense of a shared culture shines through, no more so than when looking at the number of young athletes driving the sport forward, with fellow Brit, Kirsty Muir (a two-time finalist on Olympic debut), China’s Ailing Eileen Gu (perhaps the face of the Games), France’s Tess Ledeux among the athletes already looking to dominate the sport despite being under the age of 21. How much does that shared youth drive the athletes to improve themselves? For Atkin, it’s clear. “I think there’s a fire in young athletes”, she says, “because we all want to prove ourselves and make a name for ourselves in our sport. We all kind of feed off that energy, and it’s just great to be a part of it.”
In Aspen, in March, Atkin was a leading part of it, her World Championships bronze medal grabbing attention from a global audience. Going into it, Atkin knew she was in good form, and the challenge was in managing the pressure that came with it. “I felt really good coming to the Aspen World Championships. I’d had a great training camp before, and I knew I could podium if I landed my runs. The hard part was keeping the pressure off my shoulders.”
The trick to that, she found, was in the fun of the sport. “I just tried to enjoy the World Championships experience; skiing with friends, and just putting down a run I’d trained so hard for.” That ability to manage the pressure is something which calls back to what she says was the best piece of advice she’s had in her career: “just to believe in myself, and that I’m capable of a lot more than I think”.
And what of Beijing, and the chance to step out as part of Team GB? “I’m just so excited!”, she says, with a level of enthusiasm that’s so obviously genuine. “I’ve always wanted to go; it’s been my dream for such a long time. I’m just excited to see all my teammates and everyone out there.”
And her aim in the Games? “Like this season, I just wanna land a couple of new tricks, but I’ll keep you guys in suspense about those! Hopefully just perform well and land them in competition.”
It’s a philosophy that’s served her well in her young career, and one which might just be enough to take Beijing by storm.
Zoe Atkin Biography
- Born: 2003
- Discipline: Freeski – Halfpipe
- Squad: World Cup Squad
- Hometown: Park City, UT, USA