Landmark Telemark season is the latest leap forward for Ipswich skiier Jasmin Taylor
- Credit: Archant
One of Britain’s best skiers has had a remarkable year – and she’s set her sights on beating it next winter.
The names of Britain’s top winter sports athletes, past and present, do not exactly trip off the tongue. Skeleton racer Lizzy Yarnold or slalom skier Dave Ryding might be most people’s best contemporary examples, before falling back to 1980s ice dancers Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean – or perhaps, in desperation, ski jumper ‘Eddie The Eagle’ Edwards.
So here’s one for free – Jasmin Taylor, the Ipswich Telemark skier who could become one of the country’s most successful winter sports athletes ever.
This month she returned home from her best season to date in the downhill discipline where only the toe of the boot is attached to the ski – and has her sights set on replicating this next term.
Having been part of the international circuit since 2011, 23-year-old Taylor claimed her first senior World Cup podium in 2013/14 and followed it up in 2014/15 with a bronze in the World Championships, becoming the first Brit to ever medal in the competition.
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Another World Cup podium was achieved in 2015/16, but this season became something of a watershed moment for Colchester-born Taylor when she featured on the World Cup podium six times and again claimed a World Championship bronze.
“It’s been a great season but actually the good days you don’t overly celebrate them and the bad days you don’t overly punish yourself about,” Taylor said shortly before heading home for the summer from her base in France.
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“This has been a season where a lot of the work in the past has come together. I have met a certain level of maturity where I can pull more of it together more often.
“(This season) feels like I have improved. I am really pleased with what I have achieved this season but I will be pushing to beat that next season.”
Achieving – and repeating – success is the challenge for any sportswoman or man, but how do you go from a dry ski slope in Ipswich (not particularly famous for its snowy mountain tops) to mixing it with some of the world’s best skiers?
For Taylor it was via two other skiing disciplines: Alpine, the traditional fastest-down-the-hill time trial, and Ski Cross, where skiers race side-by-side in groups of four over jumps and banked turns. Both are Olympic disciplines.
Of her journey into Telemark Taylor said: “I definitely was quite determined to be a professional skier and I was realising around the age of 16 that I had started too late with alpine. It’s highly competitive on a British and international level.
“I tried ski cross with some success but realised that on an international level I didn’t have the build. Around the same time I tried Telemark and found I was physically much more suited to it.”
Even then, having found the discipline for her, Taylor had another challenge to overcome – the access to snowy slopes. Much of her junior and senior skiing career has been spent based abroad, as you would expect.
In the summer, back in England, fitness training takes priority; you may occasionally see her on roller-skis along Felixstowe’s seafront, though.
Taylor is keen not to downplay the efforts of her international colleagues, but admits the lack of suitable geography and facilities probably leads to fewer winter sports athletes being developed in Britain than in snowier climates.
“You are going to have to work hard because you haven’t had the opportunity being on the slopes,” she said. “In the end I think we can be just as good as other countries but it will take us longer to get there.
“It’s a fact the Brits have to work around. They have a much higher turnover of athletes in the mountainous countries.”
Despite that, she is positive about the future of Telemark and other winter sports in Britain. In particular, things have recently taken a jump forward in terms of sponsorship.
The GB Telemark Ski Team has recently been provided with a van by one of its new backers, Aquatronic Group Management, with ski servicing company VOLA and sports clothing specialists Dare 2b also on board.
All this is helping Taylor and her colleagues get to and stay on the same level playing field as their competitors.
“I know we have many great successes. Really, across the board, what we have achieved in world skiing as a non-alpine nation is phenomenal.”
The future is particularly bright for Taylor, who has proven she gets better year-on-year. She says the best years for a Telemark skier are between the ages of 26 and 28, and describes the most experienced competitors on the circuit this season as “phenomenal”.
Olympic appearances may crop up a some stage too, even though Telemark isn’t currently included in the Games.
It might get its time in 2022 – Taylor will be 28 then – and if not, 2026 might still be early enough for the Brit to feature, albeit at the tail end of her career.
“People are pushing for it at the FIS level,” she explained. “All of our races are filmed and put on a live stream and this year the Olympic channel has been following them. When that’s been the case it’s had over two million viewers.
“I think we have the decision (for 2022) in 2020. I think it’s about maintaining and expanding and improving.
“In the time I have been in the sport the equipment has changed so much.”
By then, Taylor could well have more than doubled her haul of World Cup and World Championship medals, surely putting her at the top of Britain’s winter sports pile.
“I feel I can be in the mix with that movement. For me it’s about being the best I can be as an athlete so I would like to think I can be considered in that way.
“If I could talk to my 10-year-old self now she would be over the moon. It’s always been my dream and even then it was my absolute dream to be a world class skier.
“When I look at it like that it’s a good feeling and it’s not often I look at it like that. It is quite cool.”
It’s not all glory and podium pictures though: “Back-to-back race days and travelling puts your stress levels through the roof. You can’t explain it, I don’t feel that at any other time of the year.
“Ski prep, sometimes the general travelling, and missing your family, it’s all quite a lot going on.
“But there are always positives. Ski prep is boring bit it makes your skis faster. Travelling is long but you get to see all these amazing places.”
And has Taylor ever questioned her ability to make it in the sport?
“I think everybody has doubts. It’s part of being human. You can get very frustrated with yourself especially when you can’t understand why things aren’t going the way you want.
“I have been on some steep learning curves, some a lot steeper than I would have wanted. But that’s part of the magic.”
Taylor’s sporting career is an unpaid one, a situation she shares with many other UK athletes. Out of the Telemark season she works as a fitness instructor. Part of the funding for what she does, as well as coming from GB Telemark Ski Team sponsors, is down to the generosity of her personal backers.
They are a pretty diverse group, including air conditioning company Metro, recycling company TDS Safeguard, law firm Trowers and Hamlins, printers LaserLife, the Ladies Ski Club of Great Britain and Colchester Physiotherapy. She’s always on the lookout for more, though.
Outside of skiing, Taylor is just coming up to the half-way point of a degree in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Suffolk. She’s stretched it over six years to fit around her training and competitions across the world, and will be catching up on her work over the summer.
“My lecturers have been very attentive in helping me through my degree. I also appreciate having a different aspect to my life other than skiing. It’s good to have that support from the university as well.
“It’s nice to have other obligations. Having that to work towards is really positive. I love being back at the uni – in the beginning I was sceptical, I didn’t want anything to take away from my skiing.”
Far from doing that, the university has provided more to Taylor than just the base to study a degree.
Among her personal support team is Manos Georgiadis, a psychologist based at the institution, and her team also draws on the collective experience of Alasdair Jones, from Colchester Physiotherapy, and Dan Donnelly, her strength coach from Cross-Fit Ipswich.
Is Taylor’s degree geared towards one day coaching the Telemark skiers of the future? Or does she see her post-skiing career reporting on it or helping run the sport?
“Everything you mentioned I would be interested in doing. I absolutely love this sport. I am passionate about it on all levels and I want to see it succeed, the British team succeed, the sport succeed at every level.”