Eighteen-year-old Liam Gill may not have made it to the final in the men’s snowboard halfpipe event in Beijing, but he’s been soaking up every minute of his Olympic debut.
Gill, a member of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation in the N.W.T. and the only Indigenous member of this year’s Canadian snowboard team, had been looking forward to watching the 2022 Olympics from home.
But after he was announced as a late replacement for Derek Livingston, the teenager was suddenly getting ready to snowboard on the world stage.
“I did treat it like any other event, and it really is the same,” said Gill. “There’s not really anything much different, except for the fact that it’s the Olympics.”
That’s not to say Gill didn’t feel the intensity of the competition as he took to the slopes on Feb. 8.
“I’m usually able to compose myself and not get too nervous, but I was just vibrating before my first run,” he said. “It was an amazing experience.
“Standing at the top of the pipe — and they have those big Olympic rings there — and being able to ride that pipe by myself for 30, 40 seconds was pretty amazing.”
On Tuesday, Gill’s two runs did not go as he had hoped — he fell twice and finished 23rd overall out of a field of 25. Still, he says the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I went down on the same trick twice,” he said. “I was having trouble with practicing stuff, and this trip’s been all crazy, but I just made two mistakes and I can’t change that. Overall, I’m happy.”
Gill’s family and friends have also been encouraging him from afar. He says they’ve been telling him to “just go and experience the games as your first time — you don’t have to have any expectations.”
And though he will be coming back to Canada next week — after cheering on fellow Team Canada snowboarders Elizabeth Hosking and Brooke D’Hondt in the women’s snowboard halfpipe final — he already has his sights set on 2026.
“It just makes me want to do it so much more, now I’ve got a taste of it,” said Gill. “Now I really want to give it my absolute everything four years from now.”
In the end, though, Gill’s love for snowboarding isn’t about the competition or the prestige — it’s all about “the freedom you get.”
“When you’re on your snowboard, you’re not thinking about ‘ah, I’ve got to do school,’ or ‘I’ve got to pay this’ or ‘I’ve got to do that,’ ” said Gill. “You’re there to have fun.
“Whenever I’m on my snowboard, I’m having fun.”