At the start of the aerial skiing season Lloyd Wallace had his sights set on the Europa Cup, the sport’s regional tour where his sister Elodie is currently the top-ranked British athlete, but by the end of it, he was competing with the world’s best in front of a crowd of a thousand fans in the final of the World Cup’s grand finale in Belarus, having just pulled off the best result by a British aerial skier in 20 years.
Two weeks later, back at the Europa Cup in Switzerland, Lloyd went on to win the first gold medal of his career in Airolo – the first by a British athlete in the history of the sport.
“I knew I had it in me,” he said after standing on top of the podium in Switzerland. “Everything went perfectly. It's the best feeling in the world."
For an athlete who is largely self-funded – other than the support he gets from SportsAid through SSE’s Next Generation programme – who has had to borrow a coach from the Swiss team this year, and who, in the month leading up to the World Cup final in Belarus had not trained at all so he could keep up with his university work, the recent performances have been absolutely stunning. Which is how the GB Aerial Ski Team has described his entire season: with five top-20 finishes and 15th place at the world championships, Lloyd has had an incredible debut at the top flight of his sport. The last time a British aerial skier enjoyed similar success was in 1995 – the year Lloyd was born.
“Two decades,” he says. “It’s still hard to believe.”
Looking back on that magical moment in Belarus on March 1, when unusually mild weather left some difficult conditions to contend with, Lloyd says, “I came out on competition day feeling less than confident but training went a lot better [than the day before], which put me at ease. When the competition started I waited my turn at the top, going through my jump over and over in my head, and tried to block out the cameras, commentators and the big crowd. When my turn came I looked at my coach, Mich Roth, who gave me the all clear. I jumped and stomped one of the best triple twisting double somersaults I’ve ever done: a full-double full. I was ecstatic!”
Lloyd knew straight away he had a chance of making the finals but says, “I didn’t want to let myself think about it.
“There were six or seven guys still to go. After qualifications finished Mich called down to me, saying I got through, and I went crazy! High fives by the dozen! At which point he told me to calm down and focus as I still had another competition jump to do.”
Lloyd was about to experience his very first ‘showcase’ of his career, when the 12 remaining competitors are introduced to the crowd one by one before launching themselves skyward for their final jumps of the event.
“It was amazing,” Lloyd said. “I was just trying to take it all in. Standing before more than a thousand people cheering for you and your mates is an unbeatable feeling.”
Most of those other competitors, including world number one Mac Bohonnon from the USA, were last year representing their countries at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Games were not to be for Lloyd but on reflection he says the disappointment of not going to Sochi only “added fuel to the fire and motivated me to work even harder last summer.”
Clearly it paid off because it has turned out to be a breakthrough year for the 20-year-old rising star from Wiltshire.
“It’s been an awesome season,” he adds. “Completing my first ever triple somersaults in China, in the Bird’s Nest stadium, and coming 16th was an unforgettable experience. Also getting 15th at the world championships in Austria was a huge highlight.”
Asked if Swiss coach Mich Roth has contributed to this, Lloyd says, “Yes, totally. There is no British team coach for aerials so without Mich I would be lost. I’m very lucky to have him work with me – he is the best in the business. No other coach can have had an athlete win a medal at every Olympics. I’m incredibly grateful for everything Mich and the Swiss have done for me.”
He adds, “Doing triples is a breakthrough and I’ve proved to myself more than once that I can compete with the best. I’m super excited for the seasons to come, as I know I have loads more to give.”
With the coaching issue resolved for now, the remaining challenge for Lloyd is the huge cost of competing all over the world. “It’s certainly not a cheap sport to be competing in and aerials gets no central funding,” he explains.
“We all pay our own way and I keep costs down by sleeping on sofas and cooking in. Having the support from SportsAid is just awesome, it makes a huge difference and means I can spend more time doing what I need to do to succeed, like spending up to four months in the summer training in Switzerland on water ramps.”
Looking ahead, if things keep progressing as they are, you may well see Lloyd competing for Team GB at the next Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in 2018.
“PyeongChang is indeed a huge goal of mine, but before then there are lots of goals, like I have my last junior world champs in Italy which hopefully I can perform well in. For next season I want to be competing harder and bigger tricks at more of the World Cups and if all goes well get to more finals. This will give me a good base going into world champs in 2017 and onto 2018.”
SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Lloyd can continue receiving the support they rely on. To donate text ‘NEXT01 £5’, ‘NEXT01 £10’ or as much as you can give to 70070. SportsAid is a registered charity (1111612). Its patron is Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. Find out more at www.sportsaid.org.uk.