WESTPORT, Conn. – When Westport’s Julia Marino watched the Winter Olympics last month, she felt as though she were sitting in a classroom. She watched, absorbed and took mental notes on the slopestyle snowboarders who competed in Sochi, Russia.
In four years, the 16-year-old Marino could be representing the United States on the slopes of PyeongChang in South Korea. She is in the final stages of her snowboarding season now, training in Colorado. Earlier this year, she had the best performance of her blossoming career when she finished fourth at the Burton European Open. It was just her second competition against some of the best riders in the world.
“I watched the Olympics and got to see what the experience is like,’’ Marino said in a telephone interview. “I heard a ton of interviews. The judging was different for sure, at least on the men’s side. They were looking for the unique, style things. I thought the scoring for the women was pretty much on point. Some girls I thought did better than the scores reflected. But it was nice to see slopestyle in the Olympics.”
Marino started competitive snowboarding four years ago. It was a long shot for her to make the Olympic team this year, and an injury in December compromised any chance she may have had to make the team.
“That was one of the lowlights of the year,’’ she said. “I hurt my heel during soccer season (she played for the St. Joseph’s of Trumbull school team in the fall) and I wasn’t able to snowboard for about a month. I wasn’t able to do anything big. It was so painful when I tried to make a big landing. I gave it a ton of time to heal.”
At the Burton European Open in January, Marino showed the skills that make her a rider to watch over the next four years. Competing against 27 others from all over the world, Marino qualified for the semifinals by finishing in the top six after the first round. She finished with a total of 67.6 points and was one of the youngest riders in the field.
“It was the most amazing and exciting experience,’’ she said. “I enjoyed going there. The competition was a ton of fun. I was happy I was able to pull out a fourth place finish there.”
While Marino is encouraged by her progress, she also realizes there is a lot of work ahead. She is currently ranked 17th on World Snowboard Tour.
“I have to work on everything,’’ she said. “Skills, conditioning, strength, mental approach. You need physical strength and mental strength. Especially in the Olympic events. You need to able to land those jumps. Mental strength is a huge part of it, and I know it’s something I have to develop.”
Marino is taking online school classes and plans to return to Westport in April along with her father, John, who lives with her in the winter. They will rejoin the family, including her mother Elaine and sister Cece, and plot a schedule for next year.
“It does surprise me,’’ she said of potential. “I started snowboarding when I was around 8, before that I was a skier. I never really wanted to snowboard. Around age 12, I decided I’ll move to snowboarding and I picked it up quickly. Now I’m training with top athletes and a great coach. It’s crazy to think that in four years I would be at this level of training and competing. It’s kind of funny.”