I’m at the start gate.
I tighten my bindings.
Grab the handles.
Feel my entire body extend from my hands to the board, as if we were a single being.
My feet extend along the board, I can feel up to 50 centimetres in front of me.
I feel everything.
I move the board underneath me and feel how far it goes.
I feel good.
I don’t feel cold, I don’t feel hot, I breathe quietly, my diaphragm is relaxed.
I can see clearly, I adjust my mask a little and feel really centred.
I’m where I need to be, in my place.
And when I feel like this, I know I’ll make good time.
I’ll do the competition well.
Doing well in a competition is never really a matter of moments, whilst at the same time it is always and only a matter of moments.
Behind that little start gate, when you’re gripping the handles tightly, you can't wait for them to project, almost throw you, towards the valley floor, but behind that there are thousands of hours.
Hours of work, hours of training. Hours of uncertainty and doubt that I’ve persistently turned into belief and certainty. At the same time, however, it is only this instance that can really tell me what will happen.
This is what I feel before the start, during the seconds immediately before countdown, that deter-mine if, and how, my board and body will be one.
Sport and life, or at least my sport and my life, have always been dotted with dozens of these cross-roads. Intersections of time, intersections of narrative.
The throwing of a coin that spins in the sky and could fall on one side or the other with the same ilk, the same carelessness.
I was a messy little girl, for example.
But also very loving.
Mum says I was an unruly daughter, a tomboy who didn’t like to lose in any game and always came home dirty, covered in earth, snow, grass or mud.
Yet, every time she walked me to kindergarten, once inside I’d run straight over to the window so I could wave to her, watching as she walked - backwards - over the measly 100 metres we’d just strolled along together.
I was curious about the world around me, but had already discovered what I loved most, too, name-ly my home and family.
Still today, when I’ve chosen a profession that means I travel a lot, I experience each departure as an adventure indeed but a small, painful abandonment, too.
To be honest, the passion I had became the job I chose almost by surprise, without warning me, without preparing myself for the greatness of everything that would have surrounded me.
In less than two years I went from winning the European Cup to winning the World Cup and from the World Cup to the Olympic final, with the right dose of recklessness that only those who are tru-ly sincere can have. It was like a crash course, complex and exciting, which rapidly taught me more than I had learned up to that point.
The crossroads at which I chose snowboarding arrived well before the two years before Sochi 2014, and that was a very easy choice.
A team sport on the one hand, an individual one on the other.
I’ve chosen to be alone.
I’ve chosen to be the leading figure, because I wanted it to be me who won or lost.
It's nice to share, of course, and perhaps it would also have been fun to discover what it’s like to win as a team. I might have liked it.
But for the somewhat self-centred being I am, I like it this way. Very much indeed.
Then, whilst I was growing up, let's say midway between kindergarten and Sochi, I realised that this passion I had made me different from others. Neither better nor worse, just different.
There was a unique energy within me.
Me, who loved doing things others didn’t and haven’t always been able to experience it as lightly as I’d have liked.
It was hard to accept me for who I am.
One day I could, the next I couldn’t.
Until I won my first Italian championship, during the third year of lower secondary school, and be-gan to feel that all this might just be a gift rather than a curse.
I began to believe that my way of being could give me something more, that the path I had taken was the actually right one for me.
Many years later there are still aspects of my character I find difficult to deal with or would like to smooth out, that I would like to change even.
But today, I know that if I got here I also owe it to the obstinacy and strength of my faults, and their ability to shape my character.
Like stubbornness. When you do something great, as if by magic everyone interprets your stub-bornness as resilience.
I always knew I would do something great.
Even before I knew what it would be, I was still sure. Virtually certain.
So, when I got to the Olympics, no matter how bewildered I was, I felt ready to keep my word to myself.
At that crossroads, however, I took the longer road.
I wouldn’t say the wrong one, just the longer one for sure.
At the start gate of each run, in Sochi, my legs felt like puddings, and ready-steady-go I found my-self right at the back of the group.
Then the outline disappeared, I became myself again, and recovered one position at a time, until I was sure to be included in the next stage.
It was like this in all of them, except the final.
In the final, when I was in third place after being in fourth, and just as I glimpsed a medal, I fell and tore my cruciate ligament.
I could have stayed in the slipstream, waited for the bend to finish and then overtake, but I was 18 and didn't really know what I was doing.
I cried after the race.
Yet it was also like taking a weight off my shoulders, to return to life as before, a simpler, smaller life. One in which my real goal wasn’t an Olympic medal, but getting a school-leaving certificate and driving license in the same year.
I never doubted I’d return, nor did I doubt I’d become stronger than before.
It’s just that there were so many things that were still healing. Many, besides my knee.
And it took four years to build something that allowed me to reach my biggest goal
I could tell my version of Pyeongchang 2018 as if it were a story of revenge, the closing of a magic circle, which brought pain and joy, frenzy and celebration together onto the same page.
Or I could tell it as it really was, because a four-year period holds so much, loads in fact, and you can't summarise everything in the title of a newspaper written in upper-case.
On paper, the Korean Olympics were my olympics.
An expected gold.
A heavy weight which, with the results achieved during previous seasons, I myself had fed and nur-tured. An emotional escalation that led me to the start gate of the final with a mixture of energy and fear, because that never leaves me.
Fear of having done something wrong, of being too nervous or not nervous enough. Fear comes be-fore every race and I force myself to face it every single time, it never remains unvoiced, or latent,
It’s she and I, and we settle our scores alone.
"Of course when everyone expects you to win it becomes even more difficult to win.
But it really depends on you and on how you manage the situation mentally, if not by estranging yourself, then at least by not reflecting on what others think of you.
What others expect from you. If I can focus on myself, on my strengths, on my feelings and not think about the fact that every-one’s watching me from home, that my coaches expect me to do well, that my sponsors expect me to do well... if I can get away from these things, then yes I can do really well.."
But it’s not enough.
I also need to feel the signs of fate, almost like an alignment of the planets that appears suddenly, certifying the absolute importance of the moment I’m experiencing.
My house was once a customhouse, a crossroads, and it’s not uncommon for items travellers were forced to leave on the street, rather than give to the customs officer on duty, to pop up in our land from time to time.
A few months before the 2018 Olympics, just as I was about to do some gardening, I saw some-thing shiny that looked a lot like the rusty cap of one of the beer bottles of the time.
Instead it was a ring, perfectly preserved and studded with green, white and red stones.
It was perfectly set, none of the stones were missing, not even one.
"I decided I’d take the ring to Korea with me and that if I won I’d leave it there.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I competed wearing the ring, and you can see it in the photos taken on the podium when I bite the medal.
After the awards ceremony I asked our physiotherapist, Marco, and team doctor, Gabri, who had carried out the operation on my knee four years earlier, to accompany me.
We jumped over the fences and went in.
We went straight to the finishing line of the snowboard cross slope, I dug a hole and buried the ring in it.
That victory could change everything or nothing, and in my case, perhaps, it did a bit of both.
I’m still unable to tell myself “Well done!”, even if I should learn how to as the road is challenging and not judging yourself too hard is one of the secrets of success.
At the same time, however, I won an Olympic gold which I often forget, as I want to see what comes next. Staying hungry is one of the secrets of success.
I realised that despite working hard all year, every year, you’ll only be remembered for your achievements and the medals you win, as if your work counted less on the other 364 days.
But I also realised that I like to tell myself for the person I am, because in the end we’re human be-ings before being athletes, and it’s our passions and fears that really bring us closer to people.
I've understood that the biggest crossroads in sport are motivation - you either have it or you don’t.
You build it, day after day, because it doesn't head off on holiday and certainly doesn't rest. The moment you lose it you start a descent that’s impossible to stop.
For a moment I felt empty, almost lost.
I’d done everything to win an Olympic gold.
"And now?" I asked myself.
Then I met Antonio Rossi, who won 3 Olympic gold medals and told me about his career, which was when I started putting everything back into perspective.
There’s still a long way to go to win 3 Olympic gold medals, but I’m more determined than ever, especially at the moment - without any competitions I feel like a caged lion.
First there will be Beijing 2022, of course and, even though I oughtn’t, I can't help but think what the 2026 Olympics will represent for our country.
I look at the mountain from here, I look at the forest where the track, my track, will be.
I visualise it a little.
"But I’m taking it one step at a time, as I’m already anxious enough as it is.
I really must take it one step at a time, year by year.
This is the only way I’ll get to 2026.
If I thought of getting to 2026, thinking only of 2026, rather than everything that’ll come before it, I’d certainly not get there.
But I can already imagine what it’ll be like.
I don’t think it’ll change much at a visual level. What I mean is that great events will no longer take place as they did before, disfiguring everything with all the building work, the deforestation. It’ll be very different, much more suited to nature and people."
It’ll be a party, there’ll be the fans and the people dear to me, and I’ll think of them all when I’m at the start gate ready to go.
I’ll want to entertain them, because knowing they’re there gives me a jolt of energy.
I’ll have done everything well, nearing the race, I'll be in good shape and I’ll feel my usual desire to gobble up the track in enormous bites explode inside me.
Then suddenly everything will disappear, the people, the pressure, Livigno at the bottom of the val-ley.
And then it’ll be just me, my board and my fear.
We’ll look each other in the eye, no holds barred.
Then I’ll finally feel the board become part of me.
MICHELA MOIOLI / CONTRIBUTOR