How snowboarder Billy Morgan survived career-threatening injury to make British Olympic history
Exclusive interview: Morgan battled through the pain to compete at Sochi 2014, but when his knee gave way again two months before the Pyeonchang Games last year he thought it was ‘game over’
Billy Morgan had a decision to make. Six months before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the snowboarder partially tore his anterior cruciate ligament to leave his knee and Olympic dream in shreds.
He had a choice: pick surgery and his knee would fully mend, but he would miss the Ganes he had spent years working towards; pick rehab and his knee might not heal correctly, potentially putting his career at risk, but he would have a shot at making Team GB’s squad in Russia.
“If I had surgery I wouldn’t have been able to ride, and that’s what it’s all about,” Morgan tells The Independent – so he threw everything into physio. “It was intense: we did lots of strengthening, proprioception, Bosu work – I hammered it.”
Not only did Morgan make the Olympics, riding through the pain to finish 10th, but he came out the other side feeling stronger than ever, so much so that he didn’t need the surgery when he came home.
A year later he found the right moment to step back from the sport and fully recover. The operation was a success and the road to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang was clear – and this time Morgan wanted a medal.
But there was another career-threatening hurdle to overcome. “A couple of months before the Olympics, I was riding an airbag and twanged my LCL (lateral cruciate ligament),” Morgan remembers. “It felt the same as my ACL and though ‘f***, that’s game over. Not again.’
“I rehabbed as much as could. I did no actual snowboarding in the lead up to Olympics, and we took another rider with us in case I couldn’t compete. I struggled through my first event, slopestyle, it was hurting a bit and I didn’t do very well. But by the time Big Air came along two weeks later it felt better.”
There Morgan pulled off the jump of his life, adapting the enormously difficult front-side 1440 triple to get himself into the medal positions, and he watched as rider after rider fluffed their lines until there were none left. Morgan won bronze, becoming the first British man to win an Olympic medal on snow.
Looking back Morgan would never wish those injuries on himself, but he believes they helped him to come out stronger in the face of adversity.
“Sometimes time off can be a benefit. You have your injury, you come back with a vengeance and you really want to fight harder. You just have one focus to get back to it and it gives you that drive. On the flip side, everyone else is training and the levels are creeping up and I’m doing hamstring curls at the gym. It’s hard.
“I had a sick programme and I just followed it to the letter. Right from the beginning you are starting with the lightest weights and slowly loading up. I hated the gym, but after I went through all my rehab I got into it. My best mate did my rehab with me, without any injury, and he said he felt invincible afterwards.
“Finding things that were fun was key. At the time, gymwork was monotonous for me compared to freesports like snowboarding, so making it fun was important. I would do gymnastics with rehab in mind, so flipping and landing into a squat position. That really helped.”
Ultimately Morgan can never know what would have been had he been a little more lucky along the way, but the prize of an Olympic medal is enough to have no regrets. “I definitely educated myself, and look after myself better now. It woke me up to the fact I’m getting older and I’m not invincible. A reality check every now and again is a good thing.”
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