Snowboarder Tiarn Collins is on top of the world.
Having virtually disappeared for two years, the 20-year-old Collins reminded everyone of his stunning potential by winning his first World Cup event in Calgary this week.
In 2018, Collins found himself in a very different place after his Winter Olympic dreams were wrecked by a bad injury just days before the competition in South Korea.
Tipped as a medal possibility after scoring his first World Cup podium finish during the Olympic build-up, he was left to cheer his team mates on, before enduring an unexpectedly long road back.
A few new tricks and superb work on the jumps saw him beat a top class field in Canada.
Collins chats to the NZ Herald about his recovery, future hopes, and the people who inspired him including a hometown hero who died tragically young.
Take us back to PyeongChang – what happened on that fateful Olympic day for you?
I was injured on the second day of practice. It didn't go well at takeoff, but I almost saved it. I landed off a rail kind of awkward – I put my arm out in a weird position. I've got a funny elbow which doesn't fully straighten because of an injury when I was younger. It became a hinge point and pushed the force to my shoulder.
Why has it take you so long to get back?
It was a bad dislocation and I couldn't move my arm for two weeks. I had surgery, rehab, and that took me out for the rest of the season. But it blew out again – that first surgery didn't work. I had to go under the knife again, the whole process, which took another winter out. My riding level was back to normal last October, and I only got my competitive level back in the past month.
How did you deal with that long break?
It definitely got hard at times, sitting at home, looking at my phone and seeing everyone else have the time of their lives. It was especially hard at the Olympics, with two other team members getting podiums while I couldn't even lift my arm up. I played a lot of play station, which is brain engaging which helps. I got quite good at it.
You were brought up…
In Arrowtown. Mum (Lianne) was from Auckland and dad (Greg) from north of Sydney. I was born in Australia and we moved to Queenstown when I was about seven. We were living in Brisbane and they wanted a change of scenery for a year. Thirteen years later we're still here.
How did you get into snowboarding?
I did a bit of soccer and ripper rugby but the sport that hooked me was skateboarding. Everyone in Arrowtown had a skateboard. I fell in love with that and when winter rolled around, I thought snowboarding was pretty similar. I love both equally…although maybe snowboarding a bit more after this.
What got you hooked?
I thought snowboarding looked really cool. I watched heaps of YouTube videos on pro snowboarders and thought they were the coolest people in the world. I wanted to be like them.
Did you have any childhood heroes?
Heaps. There's a bunch of Norwegian old pro snowboarders I really loved and particularly Torstein Horgmo. A lot of Japanese pro snowboarders as well. I also had a hometown hero named Hamish Bagley.
Why Hamish Bagley?
He was three or four years older than me and one of my huge inspirations growing up, a kid from the same town as me who was on the world stage.
I would see him at the skate park, we'd skate together sometimes, get rides together up the mountain to save on gas. He was really, really good. We'd have competitions with the whole training group and he would always win. He did super well at the youth Olympics, and I thought 'whoa I want to be like him'.
Hamish was killed in a car accident (at Lindis Pass, in 2014) – I couldn't really believe it.
The way he moved his body, the tricks he chose were really sick, really hard. I also liked the clothes he wore. His main sponsor was DC and I always loved that brand. The look was skateboard style, more street. When I was 14, they picked me up as a rider as well.
Is the United States still a base for your campaigns?
We definitely used to do that but nowadays we live out of a bag and hop between Europe and North America every month. For a good six months of the year we don't have a base.
Who do you travel with?
The New Zealand snowboard team. They help cover the accommodation; we usually cover the flights. They organise it all which is awesome. They bring out the support crews, they are really, really good. We definitely couldn't be here without them.
Is there anything you would like to change in snowboarding?
If we had a bit more of an identifiable tour it would be cool. Surfing has it, skateboarding pretty much has it.
There are two disciplines – slopestyle and halfpipe. They are kind of merging into one but they should completely merge. That would be more appealing for spectators and riders.
Half pipe is essentially the same every time whereas in slopestyle, the course and rails, the jumps and the order are different. You are not sure what you are doing until you look at the course. Merging the two would be really good for the showmanship – it could be slopestyle with a halfpipe feature in the middle maybe.
Do you have a favourite opponent?
I dunno…going up against the New Zealand team, the boys you live with. It pushes everyone on the team, having people competing against you. We are all best friends anyway. It's just a lot of fun, living at the house with everyone, getting to go snowboarding with your friends every day.
New Zealand snow sports are making progress with good results around the world…
Definitely. Everyone has been doing super well, and a lot of that has to do with Snow Sports NZ and our support crews. They do such a good job…all we have to do is put in the work and they have got our back. It is really starting to pay off.
Do you have any other pursuits?
I'm trying to get into surfing. I'm not very good but it's fun sucking at something again. I go with my dad to Riverton. It's fun being out in the water – I'd love to get better so I can surf in places other than the beginners' beach.
Are you confident about your medal prospects at the 2022 Olympics in China?
For sure. In the season leading up to the last Olympics I had my first World Cup podium. I was close then.
The time off has made me really clear on what I need to do. I had a lot of time to watch how everyone else went about things. I've been working on things like what I eat – I've cut down on the lollies.
But the big thing I've noticed is you've really got to enjoy it. Not that I didn't before. But I've enjoyed every second since getting back and that has helped me the most.