Fun is literally part of her training routine.
Olympic snowboarder Hailey Langland is about three months out from the Olympics, but when I ask her about how she’s training, she’s hard-pressed to think of a stringent routine. “I don't really see ‘training days’ as training days,” she tells me over Zoom. “It's more of me going out and riding with my friends, who I'm very lucky to have on the same national team as me,” she says. “When you're having fun, that's the best time to learn things because it's fun and it's not as scary as it usually would be.”
Training, to Langland, is also “kind of dependent on where in the world we are,” she says. Not figuratively in a grand-state-of-the-world sense, but literally: “If we’re in Austria, we’ll probably go down to Innsbruck after riding, and go go-karting and tour around the city.”
Despite her relaxed vibes, Langland is already intimately familiar with the pressures of competition. In 2017, she won the gold medal for Big Air at the X Games, before hitting the PyeongChang Games for her very first Winter Olympics in 2018 at just 17 years old. She took sixth place in Slopestyle and 14th in Big Air at those Olympics, followed by a silver in Slopestyle at the 2019 X Games. Now, with sponsors like Red Bull behind her (she’s repping the brand’s fancy new limited edition Winter Edition can for 2021!), Langland is looking down the road at the possibility of competing once more, and heading to Beijing for the 2022 Olympic Games.
While there are plenty of athletes whose routines are focused on fine-tuning their bodies as vehicles for their sports, Langland’s approach is — if you don’t mind the pun — a little more chill. “Until a couple years ago, I would say probably the last Olympics, not a lot of us [snowboarders] would even work out or treat our bodies as well as we do now,” she says. The way she gets ready for competitions isn’t necessarily intense, tunnel-vision training, but rather giving herself space to focus on herself, and remembering that snowboarding is supposed to be fun. “I find that people who are the best within the sport and are pretty consistent, they have a really good balance of both. They're not super lazy and they're not super hyper-focused on making sure they're eating chicken at this hour or working out at certain times.”
At the end of the day, it's more about what can I do to make myself better.
After a Summer Games in which the subject of athletes pushing themselves to their breaking points dominated the conversation, Langland’s attitude of fun first feels refreshing. Back in July 2021, world-famous gymnast Simone Biles made headlines for dropping out of the gymnastics team finals at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, citing mental pressure that had put her at physical risk of injury. It was a shock to her fans — Biles, who had five Olympic medals under her belt going into Tokyo and three different gymnastics moves named after her, was widely expected to sweep the competition once more. But instead, she made the widely-praised choice to withdraw and cheer on her teammates from the sidelines.
“I was so inspired, and I was really happy for Simone when she did drop out and her reasoning behind it,” Langland says. Even though their sports are different, she felt an element of kinship and camaraderie that only elite athletes can have for each other. “I totally understood why she did it. There are just those days [when] the pressure can build so much. I think that what we can do as a whole, for the entire community, is just normalize that [athletes are] all humans and there's good and bad days just like everyone else.” Langland says she’s dropped out of events because she wasn’t competing the way she wanted to, or because she was sick, or for any number of other reasons — all of them valid.
Despite Biles’ own valid reasons for her withdrawal, millions of fans were disappointed she couldn’t somehow “push through” — never mind the very real risk of injury. “I was completely supportive [of Biles], and it kind of was crazy to see the general public not being supportive,” Langland says. She wants others feeling intense pressure, athletes or not, to have the space to step back and prioritize themselves. “That's why it's so important that we as athletes, and especially the ones that are on a big stage, like the Olympics, we can be the ones to share that it's normal.”
Langland adds, “I think that now [this conversation is] really important, especially with mental health becoming so much more talked about than it was only a few years ago.”
Biles’ withdrawal sparked conversations about the pressure on athletes that are still ongoing with only a few months until the 2022 Winter Games. In October 2021, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said it would provide additional mental health resources for athletes competing in Beijing, including therapists, psychiatrists, and licensed mental health officers.
Looking ahead at the possibility of her second Olympic Games, Langland is making an effort to keep the pressure — well, if not off, then manageable. “The more stressful part is actually trying to qualify for the team,” she says. “I want to qualify so bad at the first stop and just get it out of the way.”
It's a redemption shot for everyone to try and do their best.
After coming in sixth in 2018, if she makes the Olympic team, she wants to focus on progressing and putting a new run together. Not necessarily for the gold — although it would definitely be great — but rather, to do her best for herself. “I always spent so much time thinking about other people and what they're doing and what I could do to beat them,” she says. “At the end of the day, it's more about what can I do to make myself better, and less of, ‘How can I beat all these other girls?’”
“I really see that sixth place as, maybe, a comeback story. I look at this Olympic Games coming ahead of us, and I see it more as redemption,” she says. “Not for me to try and podium, but redemption for me to try and do my best run.” She notes the conditions in PyeongChang weren’t the best: At the time, athletes complained about heavy winds during the women’s Slopestyle final. “It was a real bummer for every girl out there, because we had progressed so much between the Sochi Olympics and PyeongChang. And that progression was not shown at all, in my eyes.”
But the silver lining is that the goals for 2022 are even clearer by comparison. “I thought  was a pretty horrible showing, which sucks, but that's what makes me so excited for this next Olympics,” Langland says. “It's a redemption shot for everyone to try and do their best. And I just can't wait to see what all the girls throw down.”