Halfpipe hopeful Peter Speight is in the form of his life as he looks to make a big impression at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics tomorrow. He is one of Britain’s leading freestyle skiers and has been earmarked by many as an outside bet to bag a medal. Coming into the competition on the back of a fourth-placed finish at the Halfpipe World Cup event in China – his best result yet – the 25-year-old is in buoyant mood.
“My form’s pretty good going into the Olympics,” said Peter. “I finished sixth and fourth in my last two events – the best results of my career. My tricks are starting to come together and it’s the first season where I’ve been consistently finishing in the top 20. I feel as if I’ve made the jump to the next level and I’m in a good place.”
Peter will face the cream of the world’s coolest halfpipe heroes as he bids to impress the judges across two Olympic runs. And, due to the qualifying criteria for the 2018 Games, the Sheffield-based skier has never had a better chance to make his mark at the highest level.
“Of course it’s dangerous,” said Peter. “The fear is definitely there every time you drop into that massive ditch. I’ve noticed the fear factor more and more as I’ve got older but it’s something every freestyle skier has to deal with. And when you overcome that intense fear there’s no better feeling.
“The 30 men who’ve made it to South Korea are the same guys I compete against week in, week out on the halfpipe circuit,” he added. “We’re all good friends and there’s a real sense of community – but of course there’s that highly competitive edge.
“I feel for some of the top guys in the world though: only the top four athletes from each country could qualify for the Winter Olympics so there are a lot of talented skiers who can’t compete this month. On the upside it opens up the competition for the rest of us – including me.
Of course Peter didn’t have the luxury of deep snow and sub-zero temperatures as he sought to hone his craft as a fledgling freestyler. Like so many British peers he relied on the dry slopes of Sheffield’s Ski Village to develop his craft – and the support of family, friends and understanding university tutors to realise his Olympic dream.
“All of that backing was hugely important,” added Peter – a beneficiary of SportsAid support for four years before progressing onto the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS).. “And so was being a supported skier on TASS. It was invaluable when I was studying for my degree. My sport, by its very nature, involves a lot of travelling abroad and I received TASS funding to help with that.
“TASS introduced me to a proper strength and conditioning coach – Nick Jones - who worked at the University of Manchester while I was there. I saw a huge improvement in my skiing working with Nick – S&C wasn’t really something I’d focused on in the past. I also had physio support and the whole TASS package took me to the next level.
"I was just making my way as a freestyle skier. It’s an individual sport but I felt I belonged to the TASS community and was part of a much wider and inclusive network. I’d just moved to a new city and started my first year as a student. For the first time I was very much on my own but TASS welcomed me with open arms.”
Peter made rapid progress as a freestyle skier – at the same time as completing a three-year degree in history at Manchester. There were weeks and months in the middle of winter when his sport demanded extended absences from the classroom but TASS worked closely with lecturers and lifestyle practitioners to ensure one of Britain’s most talented athletes could juggle the demands of the halfpipe with the weight of history.
“I came away with a 2:1 in history so it really is possible to keep on improving as an international athlete and achieve a degree at the same time,” he added. “I’m living proof! Since I graduated I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to concentrate on my skiing full-time but I’m so grateful I was able to complete my degree.
“There were times when it was a real challenge balancing my sporting aims and my academic ambitions but it was a challenge I wanted to tackle head on. I knew it would be tough but TASS helped to co-ordinate things with the university and made it clear that I was going to exceptionally busy during the winter and that I might even miss exams.
“They helped me to validate what I was doing – I’m sure some people thought I was just having a jolly in the snow!” Should those same people spot Peter dropping into that dreaded ‘ditch’ at a jaw-dropping speed this month they might just think again.