Kevin Hill will rise early in South Korea this morning and check the breakfast table for some cereal and fruit. Any smoothies will be quickly gulped.
As the 31-year-old snowboard cross athlete from Vernon tweeted Wednesday: “It’s game day tomorrow. Send speedy vibes my way.”
Hill begins competition in the Pyeongchang Winter Games with seeding races today at 11 a.m. Korean time (7 p.m. Pacific). The eights, quarterfinals, semis and small and big finals follow. He finished eighth in the 2014 Sochi Games, placing second in the small final after he was wiped out of the big final.
“I still feel like I can keep up with the young kids at my age,” Hill told The Morning Star. “It feels like yesterday I was trying for the Games in Vancouver 2010 (he was forerunner) and I still have the energy and drive I did back then. I tore my groin in the middle of August which wasn’t very fun. It’s taken over five months to heal; I still feel it from time to time. I feel stronger this time around and I’ve done more work on maintaining a more well rounded vegetarian diet while traveling. It’s huge to get the proper protein and nutrition while training and competing so much.”
As a kid and teen seeking speed, the thrillseeking Hill used to eat dirt as an elite BMX racer. He was 19 when he took up snowboarding and within a few years, was a contender on the world stage.
The groin injury parlayed into poor results at the first two World Cups this season, but he’s feeling positive about the Olympics.
“When the body isn’t strong neither can the mind be; they go hand in hand. Since then I’ve had a sixth-place and the last weekend in Germany I placed fourth after a tough go in the finals. Things are looking up. Mentally, I am strong and ready to go and if all goes well I can get to the podium at the Games.”
Snowboard cross will be held at Bogwang Phoenix Park and it won’t feel totally foreign to Hill.
“I actually have raced in Korea on a very similar course to the one we will be seeing at the Olympic Games. It’s a long course with big jumps and plenty of space for passing throughout the course. I’m going to pretend it’s just like the X-Games course I’ve done very well on.”
Nicknamed Kskills, the ever-smiling Hill is inspired by tennis player Rafael Nadal for the length of time he has been at the top of his game and for his good sportsmanship. Hill’s favourite motto is: “It’s better to wear out than rust out.” His mind-set hasn’t changed since Sochi.
“My strategies have stayed the same. I’m going in knowing I have done all the hard work and preparation to get on that podium. Last Olympics, I did all I could but sometimes things go wrong and you get taken out. You have to be aggressive, keep a strong mind and go for it every lap. You can’t have any doubt in your mind.”
He knows what to expect from the racers on either side of him going down the course.
“Most of the guys are still around, I’d say about 10 different names and faces will be there. Some have retired and a few didn’t make the cut this time around. The Spanish guy will be there who took me out; he is still a really good rider and was one of my tougher competitors.”
Since 2010, Hill has been a leader on the snowboardcross team, having gained respect with an impressive out-of-nowhere run that came up just short of qualifying for the 2010 Vancouver Games. Hill turned heads with a second at the 2011 Winter X-Games. In 2015/2016, Hill pocketed silver at the Baqueira Beret World Cup, and followed up his Spanish success with a bronze in the SBX team event at the 2017 Sierra Nevada FIS Snowboard World Championships.
Hill, who has a June 27 birthday, gives major props to his folks – Don and Arleigh Hill – for being his No. 1 fan club. Getting to wear Canadian colours never gets old.
“I think it amazing to be able to represent Canada, my family and friends. I feel like when I’m competing, it’s for my parents because I know they would be doing it with me if they could. I always wanna make my dad proud with everything I do, especially in sport.”
Switching sports again may be in Hill’s future, although he’s somewhat joking about such a change.
“I’ve thought hard about giving road cycling a really good shot this coming spring. If it was my choice, I would change over to a summer sport with less contact than mine to try and save the body as long as possible.”