Jones makes history for Britain

WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer Published:

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) -- Jenny Jones' first snowboarding lesson didn't include, among other things, snow.

Instead, the then-teenager spent 30 minutes gingerly making her way over the synthetic material that substitutes for the white stuff on one of the hills near her hometown of Bristol, a couple hours west of London.

There were no snowboarders, not great ones anyway, in Great Britain in the late 1990s.

There are now, including one with an unlikely and hard-won Olympic medal hanging around her neck. The 33-year-old Jones made history on Sunday in the women's slopestyle final, grabbing bronze with a precise run through challenging Rosa Khutor Extreme Park to become the first British athlete to win a medal in a snow-based Olympic event.

"It feels incredible, absolutely incredible," Jones said. "I'm just in a moment right now."

One that ended decades of futility for a nation that isn't exactly known for its prowess on powder and whose highest peaks are oversized hills.

Skier Alain Baxter briefly gave the country its first medal on snow when he came in third in the slalom in Salt Lake City in 2002. Baxter's medal was later stripped for a failed drug test.

Historically, British Olympians who strap boots on have been also-rans or oddities. Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards became a cult hero in Calgary in 1988 when he finished last in two ski jumping events, his large glasses and not exactly textbook form endearing him to some while also paving the way for the International Olympic Committee to institute new qualifying guidelines to keep the likes of Edwards out of harm's way.

Those days, however, are long gone. Jones is at the crest of a wave of British snowboarders who have been making inroads on a discipline traditionally dominated by Americans.

Barely 24 hours before her history-making run, teammates Jamie Nicholls and Billy Morgan finished in the top 10 in the men's slopestyle finals. Where once the only option for high-level training was a plane ticket to exotic places, there are snow domes popping up all over the United Kingdom.

"We've got some great talent coming through and it feels nice to see that strong force from the British side of things," she said.

A force which she has led for most of the last 15 years. After getting the bug and working as a housekeeper at a ski resort to give her more time to shred, Jones won her first national snowboarding title in 1999.

A decade later she won slopestyle gold at the X Games. The podiums have slowed recently, and a concussion sustained in training two months ago forced her to "have a timeout for a few weeks."

Though she arrived in Sochi relatively healthy, she failed to navigate qualifying, forcing her into a semifinal where she posted the third-highest score to squeak into the finals.

Getting to the medal round seemed to take some of the pressure off.

"Once I was in the finals, it was, just, do the cleanest possible run that you can do," Jones said.

While she lacks the big air tricks of gold medalist Jamie Anderson, Jones is technically skilled, peppering her run with meticulous grabs that look fairly easy to the naked eye but are decidedly complex when hurtling down a hill at 30 mph.

Jones celebrated after landing the final jump of her second then was forced to wait several anxious moments while the judges tried to figure out what to make of it. When her score of 87.00 was posted -- ultimately just a quarter-point better than fourth place -- she waved to the pockets of Brits scattered about the stands.

"When I first started there wasn't a lot of us," she said. "I would travel a lot with girls from other nationalities, other parts of Europe. There's been an increase of British riders."

A number that only figures to grow after the country's breakthrough weekend.