If you think earning a spot on the eight-person Olympic snowboarding team sounds difficult, try doing it with your brother or sister.
The Golds, Taylor and Arielle, will join the U.S. half-pipe team headed to the Sochi Olympics next month after earning their spots via the last of five Olympic qualifying events over the weekend.
For the Golds, achieving that old-fashioned dream of representing their country at the Olympics was an endeavor participated in by the entire family. Taylor, 20, and Arielle, 17, along with their parents Ken and Patty, are America’s first family of snowboarders.
It all started with Taylor, the brother of the duo.
Taylor told NPR’s Sam H. Sanders he remembered the very moment he first wanted to become a snowboarder. Taylor was just seven years old when he started the journey:
I watched the Olympics in 2002. And I saw, you know, the men sweep the podium that year. And I was like, 'Oh my God, that looks so fun.' So, that year I asked my parents if I could take some snowboarding lessons, and it kind of just, like, snowballed from there. No pun intended.
Inspired by her elder brother, sister Arielle started snowboarding when she was only seven years old, too. But for Arielle, a dreamer who enjoyed spending more time tending to her horses than gliding up and down the half-pipe, snowboarding was just for fun.
“For me I'd say things didn't really start to get serious until probably two years ago,” Arielle told Sanders. “That's when I kind of started to realize that I could make something out of this, and I guess potentially go to the Olympics."
Despite their differing starts, both have settled into similar attitudes regarding the sport. While each takes the sport seriously by dedicating long hours to honing their chosen craft, Taylor and Arielle focus less on accolades and more on their performances.
“Yeah, the whole point of snowboarding is to have fun,” Taylor told the The Denver Post’s Jason Blevins. "Some people psyche themselves out. If your snowboarding is not on point because you are thinking about the Olympics, it's all one big mess."
Arielle expressed similar sentiments during her qualification run.
"I'm trying not to think too much about Sochi, because if I don't make it, I don't want it to ruin my whole season. If I'm riding well, I'll be happy," Arielle told Blevins. "I don't want to focus my entire snowboarding career on making it to the Olympics. People can get too wrapped up in it all."
This wisdom, it would seem, Arielle learned from Taylor—her guitar-playing, skateboarding brother—who learned early on that competing at the sport’s highest levels at just 15 years old could take its toll.
"I think he realized that being super focused on results, medals and podiums ... that's probably not a very rewarding way of pursuing his career," the siblings’ father, Ken, told Blevins. "He really loves snowboarding. He got it into his head that if 'I go out and lay down a run I'm satisfied with, that's my reward. ... The results will come.'"
According to the The New York Times’ John Branch, Ken Gold, a former professional moguls skier, said son Taylor played the classic big brother role for his younger sister to a tee. Not only did he help inspire her to become a competitive snowboarder herself, but he also helped guide her as she advanced up the ranks:
Taylor is, in many ways, responsible for Arielle’s success because he held her to a very high standard when she was learning...He told her: ‘Look, most of the girls do things the way the other girls do. You need to do things the way the guys do. You need to grab your snowboard, you need to go big, you have style, you need to have aggression in your riding.’ I think she’s the rider she is because he is.
If Taylor was the inspiration to his younger sister, then their parents, Ken and Patty, were the authors of the ecosystem that encouraged the siblings’ rise. Devoted parents, they provided consistent and loving support from the very beginning, and their involvement has only grown as Taylor and Arielle have advanced. They videotape every single one of their practices, and the entire family moves across Colorado from Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge for five months every year to be closer to the competitions.
And it doesn’t’ stop there, Ken told Sanders:
They are on snow all winter. They have a brief hiatus in the spring. Then they go to Mammoth, Calif., where there's still snow in May; then they go to Mount Hood [Ore.] for a month in mid-summer; and then they go to New Zealand for a month in the end of the summer, where it's winter in the other hemisphere. So, they're on snow, you know, 10, sometimes more, months a year.
Where snow fails, the two spend time training together in the gym.
“We can hear advice from each other that we couldn’t take from coaches,” Taylor told Branch. “Stuff that’s not necessarily positive, but that eventually helps you.”
That help can come from either direction.
While Taylor’s rise to the top of the sport has been slow and steady, Arielle’s vault into the spotlight came in a flash.
Arielle won the Junior World Championship at just 15 in March of 2012. Last season, as a rookie, she won six medals in six events, including a bronze at her first Winter X Games in Aspen.
“That motivated Taylor to step it up,” Patty told Branch. “He saw what she was doing, and I think he realized that I need to go to the next level. I want to be doing what she’s doing.”
And it worked. Only four men in the world made more finals last season than Taylor. And now, of course, he’s headed to Sochi alongside Arielle.
Speaking about the duo to Sanders, Alyssa Roenigk, a senior writer at ESPN, says the two traits most notable in the pair are humility and focus.
"If you happened to hop on the chairlift with either of them, you would never know that they're two of the best snowboarders in the world," Roenigk told Sanders. "They're very similar. They're both quiet.”
But don’t let their demeanors fool you. This quiet brother-sister team is headed to Sochi to make some real noise.
Between Taylor’s style and technical precision, and Arielle’s technical grabs and explosive airs, don’t be surprised if one or both Gold siblings make good on their namesake and end atop a podium in Sochi.
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