Winter Olympics: Team GB’s Charlotte Bankes ready for snowboard cross mayhem despite rival Eva Samkova’s absence

Charlotte Bankes has every reason to rub her hands because her closest rival will not stand between her and Olympic gold.

But like all the other truly outstanding athletes here in Beijing who have seen their high-performance peers fall by the wayside, largely due to Covid, she is truly heartbroken for Eva Samkova.

The Czech star has been a fixture at the top of the most unpredictable sport on the Olympic programme, winning gold at Sochi in 2014 and the world title in 2019.

Samková narrowly beat Bankes to prevail in November’s test event at the Secret Garden course, where the best in boardercross will go for gold on Wednesday.

But he injured his ankle at the end of last year and will not be in the starting gate of the Games. Bankes sounds cut off by his absence.

“She will be missed,” the Hemel Hempstead-born star said. “It’s the Olympics, you want the best athletes to be here.

“That is part of our sport and we have to deal with it. We had a good tight race together here in November.

“But Miki (Moioli) is here, Belle (Brockhoff) is here, we just have to go out there and put on the best show we can and have a close race with the girls that are here.”

Reigning Italian Olympic champion Michela Moioli, who won the final World Cup race before Beijing, and Australia’s Belle Brockhoff will continue to be among Bankes’ fiercest enemies.

Secret Garden is anything but a mystery and Bankes hopes the relative size and layout of the track will dictate the character of Wednesday’s racing.

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Whether or not it suits him to the ground remains to be seen, but the Team GB flag-bearer seems keen to inject speed into proceedings where he can.

Charlotte Bankes competing for France in PyeongChang

(AFP via Getty Images)

“Compared to what we’ve seen in previous Olympics, it’s going to be a little bit slower,” the 26-year-old said.

“That will make it a little bit more tactical and maybe produce closer races. It’s a bit smaller, but hopefully more exciting with closer racing and more passing.

“I think we just have to adapt to the track and make the most of it. I’m going to go out and find where I can get some speed.

“Looks good, we did some tests this morning. It’s going to be a lot of fun, we’re going to have fun.”

What is certain is that there will be no room for a Lindsey Jacobellis-style exhibitionist in what promises to be a close fight for fifth Olympic snowboard cross gold.

Bankes’ discipline produced one of the most memorable moments in recent Winter Olympics history when Jacobellis celebrated gold too early and fell at Turin 2006.

The 36-year-old American is returning for a fifth Olympiad, a sign of how long Bankes could continue at the top table if she chooses.

Bankes is making his Team GB debut but appearing at a third Games after having represented France in Sochi and PyeongChang.

British physios have cracked the code on his chronic hip problems and Bankes seems happy on and off the board.

“Choosing to race for Great Britain is the best decision I have ever made,” he said.

“Everyone around me is working to help me feel safe and enjoy being on my board again. That was the big thing that helped.

“I almost wanted to quit the sport, now I’m just enjoying being back on tour. The annoyance is not there and I am focusing on my feelings.

“I’m in a great place physically and mentally. I am very happy to be part of this team.”

Bankes is joined in Beijing by teenager Huw Nightingale, the first Briton to compete in snowboard cross at the Olympics. The pair will compete in the first mixed team event.

“She has been like a big sister to me,” Nightingale said. “Charlotte has been on the circuit for a while and she knows the ups and downs. She is very inspiring.”

If Bankes delivers gold, he’ll inspire a few more.

Watch all the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics live on discovery+Eurosport and the Eurosport app

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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