Charlotte Bankes has every reason to rub her hands that her closest rival won’t stand between her and Olympic gold.
But like all the other truly outstanding athletes here in Beijing who have seen fellow top performers fall by the wayside, largely due to Covid, she is genuinely gutted for Eva Samková.
The Czech star has been a fixture at the summit of the most unpredictable sport on the Olympic programme, winning gold at Sochi 2014 and the 2019 world title.
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 tomorrow (Wednesday).
But she picked up an ankle injury at the back end of last year and won’t be in the start gate for the Games. Bankes sounds cut up at her absence.
“We will miss her,” said the Hemel Hempstead-born star. “It’s the Olympics, you want the best athletes to be here.
“That’s 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 need to go out there and put on the best show possible and have a tight race with the girls that are here.”
Italy’s reigning Olympic champion Michela Moioli, who won the final World Cup race before Beijing, and Australia’s Belle Brockhoff will still be among Bankes’s fiercest foes.
Secret Garden is anything but a mystery and Bankes expects the relative size and design of the track to dictate the character of Wednesday’s racing.
Whether it suits her down to the ground or not remains to be seen - but Team GB’s gold standard bearer seems anxious to inject speed into proceedings where she can.
“Compared to what we’ve seen in previous Olympics, it’s going to be a little slower,” said the 26-year-old.
“That will make it a bit more tactical and maybe produce tighter racing. It’s a bit smaller, but more exciting hopefully with closer racing and more passes.
“I think we just have to adapt to the track and make the most out of it. I’m going to go out and find where I can make speed.
“It’s looking nice, we did some testing on it this morning. It’s going to be good craic - we’re going to have fun on it.”
What’s for certain is she won’t have room for a Lindsey Jacobellis style showboat in what promises to be a tight tussle for snowboard cross’s fifth Olympic gold.
Bankes’s discipline produced one of the most memorable moments in recent Winter Olympic history when Jacobellis celebrated gold too early and fell at Turin 2006.
The American, 36, returns for a fifth Olympics, a sign of how long Bankes could continue at the top table if she wants to.
Bankes is making her Team GB debut but appearing at a third Games having represented France in Sochi and PyeongChang.
British physios have cracked the code of her chronic hip problems and Bankes seems happy on and off the board.
"Choosing to ride for Great Britain is the best decision I ever took," she said.
"Everyone around me is working towards helping me to feel confident and enjoy being on my board again. That was the big thing that helped.
"I was at the point of wanting to give up the sport, now I'm just enjoying being back on the tour. The hassle isn't there and I'm focusing on my feeling.
"I'm in a great place physically and mentally. I'm really happy to be part of this team."
Bankes is joined in Beijing by teenager Huw Nightingale, the first ever British man to compete in snowboard cross at the Olympics. The pair will compete in the first-ever mixed team event.
“She’s been like an older sister to me,” said Nightingale. “Charlotte’s been on the circuit for a while and she knows the ups and downs. She’s very inspiring.”
If Bankes delivers gold, she’ll inspire a fair few more.
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