STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. –
Forget going to senior prom or playing in the big homecoming game. Arielle Gold is living a dream most high school students would do anything to claim as their own.
The 17-year-old girl who used to attend Steamboat Springs (Colo.)
has earned a chance to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It is a huge step forward for an athlete who has exploded onto the scene as one of the world's fastest rising stars in snowboarding.
Gold set the stage for earning a trip to Sochi by winning the halfpipe in the 2013 FIS Snowboarding World Championships. She followed up by claiming a pair of bronze medals in the halfpipe while competing in the X Games at tour stops in Aspen, Colo., and Tignes, France during the 2013 season.
Becoming an Olympian exceeded even the lofty goals Gold set for herself.
"It's not really something I ever expected to be doing," Gold said. "I'm just excited to be going to Russia with such an amazing group of people. Hopefully, I should be able to ride well there."
She'll get to show her skills to the world beginning Wednesday at 5 a.m., Eastern time. She set soccer aside to chase her snowboarding dreams, and she's definitely seeing the results she wants.See the MaxPreps "From Students to Sochi" homepage, with links to more Olympics content
Gold was introduced to the slopes when she learned to ski at age 3. Her older brother Taylor (also an Olympian this year) convinced her to switch to snowboarding four years later and she immediately loved what the sport offered her.
"It's always felt good learning new tricks," Gold said. "That (good) feeling from learning a new trick just made me want to keep learning more and just keep working hard. Also being at contests and seeing that hard work pay off in your results is also a pretty great feeling."
Putting in the time and effort made all the difference in Gold's rise to the top in snowboarding. She made a huge impact in the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria by claiming silver medals in slopestyle and halfpipe. Gold followed that performance with an even better one in Spain when she earned a gold medal in the halfpipe at the 2012 FIS Junior World Championships.
That set the stage for an even more impressive 2013 season. Gold took the podium in nearly every event she entered. It all started with claiming that gold medal at the 2013 FIS Snowboarding World Championships.
The real highlight for Gold came when she earned the first of two Winter X Games bronze medals in Aspen a week later. Poor conditions made it feel like her world championship came with a bit of an asterisk. Following up with a strong X Games performance removed all doubt that she belonged.
"That was definitely much more rewarding," Gold said. "It was just really good conditions for a contest and much more competitive. I landed the best run of my life. That's what I think made it much more rewarding, just what the level of riding was at and what it took for me to get there."
A pair of fourth-place finishes in the U.S. Grand Prix and the Burton European Open a year earlier pushed Gold to raise her game to a higher level.
"That's really what motivated me," Gold said. "Once I got my first podium and got a taste, I just wanted it to keep happening. So I kept doing the same things at every event and it ended up working out for me."
Being a high school student isn't always the easiest thing to do while competing at the highest levels in snowboarding. A full slate of snowboarding competitions lately has meant taking her classes online and doing homework on the road for Insight School of Colorado, a full-time online public charter school. Gold balances learning subjects like English and personal finance with honing her latest tricks on the halfpipe.
Traveling around the world to compete has also meant making some hard choices. Gold loves soccer and played with a competitive travel team for several years. It soon grew apparent she had to choose one or the other because there wasn't enough time to go around to split between soccer and snowboarding.
In the end, Gold took the path with the brighter future for her.
"That was another sport I really enjoyed," Gold said. "It was hard to give that one up, but I'm glad I did."
Now she gets a chance to live up to her name in Sochi while competing on the world's stage – a feat unmatched by few high school athletes.John Coon covers high school sports in Utah for MaxPreps. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @johncoonsports