If Ken Gold can be honest for a minute, he never saw this coming. He just didn’t think it was possible for his son Taylor and his daughter Arielle to share the same room with each other, let alone the same sport.
“Every possible opportunity for them to get into a fight, it happened,” he said.
Toys. Who sat where at dinner. The remote. Normal brother and sister stuff. Give the Golds a chance to disagree and they not only took it, they usually took it up a notch, to the point where Ken once broke his hand after punching a wall in frustration trying to get them to cut it out.
So no, the patriarch of snowboarding’s resident first family didn’t see this coming, the day his kids would stand as the semi-stoic bookends of a giddy photo of the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team.
There they were on the sun-splashed Mammoth Mountain two weeks ago, arms aloft in triumph after taking two very different routes to the same destination.
“There wasn’t any cheesy hugging or anything,” Arielle said with a laugh. “We’re not like that.”
They’re also not at each other’s throats anymore either. That stage has long since passed, replaced by a close friendship that has helped both join the elite halfpipe riders on the planet. There’s every chance 17-year-old Arielle and 20-year-old Taylor – born 899 days apart – come home from Russia with a medal draped around their neck.
Ask them how that’s even possible and they’re eager to give the other credit.
For Arielle, her older brother is equal parts coach, motivational speaker and sounding board. For Taylor, his little sister’s rapid rise from part-timer to budding star provided the jolt necessary for him to close the gap on the Shaun Whites and Danny Davises of the world.
When Arielle spent most of 2013 coming home from World Cup events with a medal stuffed in her luggage, he couldn’t help but notice no matter how much she tried to downplay it. She hadn’t even gotten serious about her riding until 2011 and yet here she was throwing down world-class runs on a weekly basis while Taylor — bitten by the snowboarding bug while watching the 2002 Olympics on TV — spent the year struggling just to get out of qualifying.
“I was definitely jealous,” Taylor said. “I think that was important for my progression. I just liked having her there to support me and help me push through a kind of the rough season. It was awesome.”
And, it turns out, necessary.
“He had to find ways to be competitive with the best guys in the world,” Ken said.
Now Taylor is there, only he’s done it in an entirely different way than his sister. He’s an old soul in a sport is obsessed with reinvention and pushing the limits. While he lacks White’s explosiveness, he makes up for it by trying to tweak each well-established trick into something new. An extra board grab here. A remix on an old favorite there.
It led to a series of podium finishes in the run-up to Sochi. In fact, the first U.S. halfpipe snowboarder to earn an automatic bid for Russia wasn’t the two-time gold medalist with the red locks and the corporate-America approved smile but the kid who listens to Led Zeppelin and spends his downtime with a guitar in his hand far from the spotlight.
Press Taylor on when the flip switched for him, and his response is a time-tested tale. Guided by Arielle and his coaches, Taylor stopped worrying about the results and more about the process. The joy in his riding returned. So did the kind of scores that make him a legitimate shot to add to what should be a heavy medal haul for the U.S. in the Caucasus Mountains.
Not that it matters to Taylor, who admits to intentionally pushing aside thoughts of what it would be like to see his name near the top of the leaderboard after the halfpipe finals on Feb. 11.
“What matters is putting down those runs when it counts,” he said. “I’m not thinking ‘Oh, I have to do this to get to the Olympics or I have to do this at the Olympics.’”
Maybe it’s because the field is so stacked. Maybe it’s because he knows he’s got at least one and probably two more Olympic cycles to go if he can stay healthy.
His sister might have three or more. And while there’s more depth than ever in women’s snowboarding, the way Arielle has sprinted up the rankings is a testament to her own unique talents, ones that she finally realized she might want to pursue.
For a decade, snowboarding was just a hobby. Her first love is horses and she’s an accomplished rider who idly talks about becoming an Olympic horseman later in life. It would frustrate her brother, honestly, to see her randomly show up at snowboarding events and cruise to a medal without breaking much of a sweat.
“Winter would come around and she would be like, ‘I guess I’ll go ride,’” he said.
It wasn’t until she began entering bigger competitions in 2011 that she realized she might want to start taking this whole thing seriously.
“She would go to contests and not win and she was like, ‘Man, I need to get my stuff together,’” Taylor said.
It didn’t take long. By 2013 she was a regular on the podium, overpowering halfpipes with her own blend of athleticism and ambition. Now she’s an Olympian, turning a journey her brother assumed would be a solo one into a unique family affair. And you know what? He’s fine with it.
“It’s such a rare thing to happen,” he said. “It’s one of those things you’ve thought about in theory … to have it happen is pretty unreal.”
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