When a sport makes its debut at the Olympics – or returns after a long absence – one question is always asked: Does it belong?
For example, does golf belong to the Olympic movement when it already has four majors? Or does tennis belong in the Summer Olympics when it has its four grand slams?
And in the Winter Olympics, does slopestyle belong when it has a World Cup and the Winter X Games?
That last one was a question that was being discussed long and hard by the sport’s top competitors during the lengthy build-up to the current Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Jamie Nicholls, who eventually came sixth in the men’s slopestyle finals in Russia, has certainly been thinking about it over the past year. Yet the 20-year-old Bradford rider confessed that this was not always the case.
“When I saw that slopestyle was going to be in the Olympics, I didn’t know what to think about it, whether it was a good thing or a bad thing,” he admitted.
“Two years ago, I never thought of going or wanting to go to the Olympics. I always saw it, as I knew halfpipe was in it, but to be totally honest, it never interested me.
“I heard many people saying bad things about the Olympics and that it would ruin our sport. It was hard not to listen to this at the time and obviously I was thinking on a similar level because everyone else was.”
However, Nicholls threw himself into the qualification process via the World Cup, which he admitted on his blog sucked – “but everyone had to do it if they wanted a chance at going to the five rings”.
“At the start, I wasn’t keen at all and my head was in the wrong place.”
But he thinks differently now, having competed in one and soaked up the atmosphere in the Olympic village near the mountain base of Rosa Khutor.
Nicholls’ view, having returned to England, is: “I’m so glad I managed to turn that around and think ‘you know what, the Olympics is the pinnacle of sport and if slopestyle is in the Olympics and I am 20 years old, for sure I am going to try to get there.
“I mean, just getting there is a huge achievement. I qualified to the finals by bypassing the semi-finals and I came sixth.
“I did the best run of my life and I am sure the rest of the 12 riders in the final did too. I put both hands down on my second run in the final and if I hadn’t I could have won a medal.
“The weather was beautiful – and what a day to show how ‘sick’ snowboarding is to the world!
“The standard of snowboarding that day blew all our minds and to be part of that is something special. In my eyes, that day everyone was a winner!”
Nicholls, from Queensbury, has now taken the wider view about what being in the Olympics can do for his discipline in terms of attracting youngsters to try it – and his reflections are all positive.
He says: “I think that now I have been and seen what an impact it has had, it’s been great for our sport and – especially in the UK – it was awesome to be part of a team that inspired so many to go snowboarding.
“For me, that’s like winning a medal. Just being at the top of slopestyle ready to take your run, I literally couldn’t stop smiling.
“It was one of the best feelings and to have so much support at home was incredible. I just thought ‘this is a great chance to show off to the world’ – and everyone loves to do that.
“When I landed my run, the feeling of excitement nearly made me sick. It’s an amazing feeling and then to know that all my friends and family were back home supporting me was great.
“What a great day that was for snowboarding in the UK (Great Britain team-mate Billy Morgan also reached the final) and also what Jenny Jones achieved by getting a (bronze) medal has had a huge impact for sure and will help push snowboarding to hopefully be a more recognised sport in our country.
“The Olympics has been, for sure, the best experience I ever had and I learnt a lot from it. I am stoked to have been able to represent my country with such a strong team.
“I just want to say a massive well done to everyone on the team and thanks to Team GB and the rest of HQ out there for making it such a special time.
“I have great memories with such a special team that inspired so many in the UK. Crazy! Now let’s all go snowboarding! Remember to have fun, enjoy it and, more importantly, respect it.”
Nicholls – whose own profile has been raised, never mind his discipline of slopestyle – has undertaken a massive amount of media work before, during and after his discipline was held.
He calls it “a crazy adventure” and even now has recently been interviewed for BBC local and national radio.
Then there is another media day looming at Heathrow when the rest of the GB team return home after the closing ceremony in Sochi.
But Nicholls doesn’t mind all the attention. He knows it will reap rewards for his sport and, hopefully, for himself – and it has been a great experience.
However, nothing is forever and, rather like many of the successful London Olympians in the wake of the 2012 Games, the next competition is just around the corner.
“I am going out to Colorado in early March for the Burton US Open, which will involve all the same riders as were at the Olympics,” said Nicholls, who should be able to add to his collection of national pin badges picked up in Sochi.
“I have loads – but none from Jamaica. There were only two Jamaicans out there (bobsleighers) and everyone wanted to get theirs.”
It has been a long journey for Nicholls from when he was seven and first tried snowboarding on the dry slope at Halifax Ski and Snowboard Centre, not even realising that real snow was what people progressed to.
He said: “I saw snowboarding as just something I want to do for fun – and still today I enjoy snowboarding like I enjoyed it when I was seven years old.”
Even at 20, he has retained that pure enjoyment of his sport – and with his focus on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea, when Nicholls says he will be at his peak, hopefully his journey has many more chapters – and an Olympic medal or two.