Our Snow Queen Jenny Jones
PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 May 2014
Sarah Ford catches up with Jenny Jones - who first learned to snowboard in Somerset - to find out what life has been like since she made Olympic history
Jenny Jones has been on a non-stop whirlwind of interviews and public appearances since she became the first Briton in the history of the Winter Olympics to win a medal on snow.
She’s been serenaded by local school children, cheered by crowds who turned out to see her parade through the streets in an open top bus tour and she’s joshed with Jonathan Ross on his TV chat show.
I meet Jenny in her home city of Bristol on what should have been a rare day off. Instead it has become yet another day packed full of appointments for this famous Olympian snowboarder and we’ve just time for a half hour chat before she needs to be off again.
Deciding it’s quicker by bike, Jenny cycles to meet me at the M Shed museum on the harbourside and as we talk next to a view of the water she recalls that impressive slopestyle run that won her the bronze at Sochi and got the country cheering.
“I couldn’t believe it had happened,” she says.
“I knew I had a chance at a medal but to come away with one is a different story; so much could have happened on the day. The semi finals was the most nerve wracking part and after that a lot of nerves then went out the system. So I was a bit more relaxed when the finals came round.”
And her sheer delight at winning the medal was obvious to all watching.
Jenny says: “I couldn’t stop laughing. I was so shocked at what had happened. There are two podiums – the one where you get your flowers and then the evening podium where you receive you medal. By then I was starting to realise what big deal it was for people, especially those back home. When I walked out to that podium I had a very strong feeling of being proud.”
Jenny’s achievement is even more impressive when you discover that she might not have made it to the Games at all. A serious accident in Austria at the end of last year left her with worrying symptoms.
“I had bad concussion so had to have about five weeks off snow,” recalls Jenny.
“I would say it was a hard time for me. I couldn’t do any activity whatsoever and it was a case of ‘am I going to be ok and live a normal life’ because I was struggling with speech and vision.
“Once I was out of the worrying stages of it all I then started to think whether I would be able to snowboard again – something I had loved doing for so many years. I had not thought as far ahead as the Olympics.”
Over the past 12 years Jenny has suffered a number of injuries.
“But that comes with snowboarding, there is an element of danger. It is an extreme sport,” she says, reeling off the list.
“I have had several concussions, chipped a bone in my right shoulder, broken two bones in my left arm and I now have two metal plates in there, I’ve had an ACL reconstruction and two knee operations, had a fractured foot, fractured ankle and a fractured tail bone.”
Those close to her appreciate what she’s gone through recently to get to the Olympics.
“I think they are really pleased for me because it’s been a tough two years with bumps and bruises.
“I think my parents worry but they accept it’s what I love doing. My dad jokes that when I phone home it’s for one of two things. I’ve either done really well and won a competition or I’m in hospital!”
Jenny, who has two older brothers, grew up in Downend and says her parents always made it possible for them to try lots of sports.
“We did swimming, gymnastics, athletics, archery, quad biking and skiing – they just wanted us to try whatever was available nearby to where we lived.”
She first tried snowboarding at the dry ski slope in Churchill in Somerset and is delighted to hear they have recently been inundated with requests for lessons. “It’s a good feeling to know that you’ve got youngsters and adults into doing a bit of activity. It doesn’t matter what sport it is.”
For Jenny it was the feeling of freedom she experienced while snowboarding in the mountains that spurred her on to continue.
After success in the British Junior Snowboarding Championships she went on to win three X Games, the main snowboarding competition.
As for the future, she says: “I have a few other non contest goals within snowboarding to do with tricks, filming and photography – that’s a big part of snowboarding, getting photos of your tricks into magazines.”
She’s only back in Bristol for two or three months of the year but when she’s here she loves cycling.
“I often cycle up the track to Bath, and in Bristol I mainly like going for a coffee and maybe seeing the odd movie at the Watershed. I also like going up to Clifton and the Downs as it’s lovely there.”
Jenny is a keen surfer and will often head for Croyde in Devon.
Meanwhile it’s nearly time for her next meeting and when we walk onto a blustery harbourside to take a couple of photos Jenny is pounced on by well wishers eager to take selfies with this new national hero.
Then my time’s up and she has to go.
“I’m going to take a photo of you on your bike,” I say, spinning round to catch her.
“Yes, get me on my bike,” laughs Jenny.
And then she’s gone.
The Jenny effect:
Jenny grew up miles from any real snow slopes and this makes her success even more remarkable.
She first started snowboarding at a Somerset dry ski slope in Churchill near Weston-super-Mare and Mendip Snowsport Centre Manager Phil Turner says everyone there is incredibly proud to be associated with Jenny’s success.
He says: “Our website went from an average of 1,000 hits per day to 14,000 in the 24 hours following her medal win and our beginner snowboard lessons booked out for two months, meaning we had to schedule more and employ a new member of staff.
“We’ve had contact from the whole South West and further afield. People have booked from anywhere between Devon and Sheffield that I know of myself.”
After winning her bronze medal Jenny’s visit to the centre was recorded by TV crews.
Phil adds: “We were very happy that she remembered her beginnings. She was happy to speak to everyone, sign autographs, give tips to those on lessons and pose for hundreds of pictures.”
Staff and students at Jenny’s old school Winterbourne International Academy (formally Ridings’ High School) are very proud of the former pupil – especially Mrs Patricia Lewis, the PE teacher who taught Jenny gymnastics and athletics.
She says: “Jenny was always willing to give anything a go and always had a smile on her face. She was a natural sportswoman with great determination. I’ve been following her progress and it was very nervous and exciting watching the results.”