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Flying high

Neil Connolly does what he loves

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Just over a year ago, at a whim, Whistler’s Neil Connolly went out on a limb and decided at the last minute to go to Europe for a World Cup big air competition. It was a new event on the tour, as well as the event where Connolly, a former halfpipe rider, felt the most comfortable.

He won that first event, and decided to stay with the tour for the rest of the season, earning more medals and top-five results to rank second overall at the end of the year.

This season he’s already been to one World Cup event in Europe, finishing fifth. He also won the first Nor Am competition at Mount Avilla, Quebec two weeks ago.

This Friday, Jan. 21, Connolly will be representing Canada in the first big air ever held as part of the FIS Snowboard World Championships. His friends and family back home in Collingwood, Ontario will be watching, but to him it’s no big deal.

"I don’t like to take it seriously," he said. "I don’t know why, but I tend not to do well if I take it seriously. Generally I do my best to forget all about it until the day of the contest when someone tells me to grab my board and get out there, go do what I like to do every day."

The Big Air is a growing World Cup event. At some contests in Europe they can see 10,000 fans or more at the jump-site. It’s being looked at as a potential sport for the Olympics, but Connolly says he isn’t getting his hopes up.

"I don’t know if I can see it happening just yet. It would be cool, and it would definitely make my life a lot easier, maybe there would be more money in it, but it will be a long process getting to that point," he said.

"In a way it makes sense. A lot of people do that kind of riding in snowboarding, so it’s got an audience everywhere. It’s good for the fans too, it’s really spectator friendly."

At one event in Munich, event organizers built a 10-storey ramp and jump in the parking lot outside of a soccer stadium on the day of the game. The contest got underway after the game was over, and most of the fans stuck around to watch the action.

"It was awesome. From the top of the ramp we could see into the stadium and watch the soccer game, and when it was over everybody stuck around to watch the competition," said Connolly.

Connolly spent a year on the national halfpipe team, but after a season of living out of his suitcase he decided it wasn’t for him. The big air is still demanding, but Connolly says it’s the type of riding he would be doing anyway.

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