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Why Olympian Aimee Fuller has retired from snowboarding aged only 29 but still has her eyes fixed on 2022 Winter Games


Bangor-based Aimee Fuller, who competed in two Olympic Games, has retired from professional snowboarding.

Bangor-based Aimee Fuller, who competed in two Olympic Games, has retired from professional snowboarding.

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Bangor-based Aimee Fuller, who competed in two Olympic Games, has retired from professional snowboarding.

After 11 years at the pinnacle of the sport, two-time Bangor-based Olympian Aimee Fuller has confirmed she is retiring from competitive snowboarding to focus on her broadcasting career.

The athlete - who was born in England but moved to Northern Ireland at the age of 16 - represented Team GB at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018, while she became the first woman in history to land a double backflip in competition at the 2012 X Games.

But now Fuller is moving on to pastures new as her fledgling broadcasting career takes off, with the 29-year-old set to be part of the commentary team for the LAAX Open in Switzerland at the end of the month, the largest snowboarding event in Europe which begins the qualifying process for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

She has already gained broadcasting experience over the past few years, both as a presenter and as a pundit, and it was the realisation that she couldn't balance a professional career in both that led to her decision to retire.

"If I was to go to the next Olympics I would be in the start gate next week, but instead I've been invited back for the third year in a row to commentate on the LAAX Open, so it seems no better time than any to hang the board up and really channel my energy into a new venture," Fuller told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I'm still going to snowboard, but I can't snowboard at Olympic level and commentate, and do all of the other things I do. The last two years since the Games (in Pyeongchang) have been amazing, but I can't keep up that pace outside my own sport.

"I love this side of the sport. I want to stay in the sport and continue to enjoy it, but for me, right now, I'm enjoying the other stuff. I've had a long, prosperous career, and it makes sense for me to make this transition now when it feels good, it feels right.

"There's no saying that I'm not going to snowboard again because I can. Snowboarding isn't just about competition, and I think that's what a lot of people associate me with is Olympic competition. But there's a lot more to me than that. I'm ready to delve into that, like I have done with my snowboarding.

"Everything I do, I do it to 100 per cent, so I want to channel that energy into a new chapter."

Fuller's love of broadcasting stems from the 2018 Olympics, where she was posting regularly on her YouTube channel to an audience of around 500,000 people, something that initially was nothing more than a side activity to do when she wasn't competing herself.

But an introduction with BBC reporter Radzi Chinyanganya opened up an entirely new avenue and saw her handed the role of co-host for their breakfast show from Pyeongchang, where she combined presenting with punditry. Immediately, Fuller caught the TV bug and knew this was something she was keen on pursuing.

"I loved the buzz of live television, it reminded me of a live snowboarding event - the uncertainty of what's going to happen," she recalls. "That got me thinking about it. From the start of my snowboarding career, all I thought about was how I could be better, how I could pursue that, and I got the same kind of adrenaline from speaking on TV.

"In that way, it was very much a natural transition for me. I think anybody who's followed me during my professional career will know that I'm a personable person, I enjoy a chat, I like finding out about other people, interviewing other people.

"I had to think long and hard about the decision to make it official the last sort of month really. This makes sense - why am I living in this life of limbo? People ask me how's training, when are the Olympics, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking well I'm really enjoying this other stuff, so I think I'm going to focus on this.

"I'm really happy with what I'm doing, so I'm going to invest my energy into seeing where that takes me. It's a new chapter to start afresh and go all in on when I've had the perfect opportunity to have a taster through my snowboarding."

When she got back from South Korea, and with some spare time after competing, she didn't have to wait long for a broadcasting assignment after making her screen debut with the BBC when she was asked to head out to Laax in 2019 to cover the LAAX Open for the first time.

From there, things have got even better. The 29-year-old has gone on to work for Red Bull TV, BT Sport, the LTA and BBC's Ski Sunday, while she has also hosted Amazon Prime's US Open tennis coverage and her own show, Lockdown Lowdown, online during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But perhaps one of the most incredible moments was doing a documentary with the Olympic Channel, "Running in North Korea", which saw Fuller and fellow Olympian Mirjam Jager head to Pyongyang to complete a marathon in 2019, detailing their experience in the infamously restrictive country.

"I didn't know much about it until I was asked to go and do it, and what I loved most about that project was the element of having a big goal. You're part of a team and you work together to make it work. Especially in a country like North Korea, it couldn't be more foreign, we had no contact with the outside world and it really brought us close," explains Fuller.

"I love the team element of making everything happen, and we needed everyone working together to make it happen, and then obviously it needed me to finish the marathon!"

Looking ahead, the dream for Fuller is to go to Beijing in 2022, only this time as a reporter rather than an athlete. Getting to cover a variety of sports, not just snowboarding, is a goal between now and then as well, while you'd suspect that, even though she's retired now, the intention isn't for the snowboard to sit in the garage gathering dust.

But "Running in North Korea" has sparked a love of documentaries and, on top of the presenting duties that she wants to pursue, Fuller hopes to potentially come back to Northern Ireland and do some work here, showcasing what she describes as somewhere that will "forever be home no matter where (her) work takes (her)".

She smiles, before saying: "Documentary-wise, I spent 10 weeks here during the first lockdown - I hadn't been home for that long in years - and discovering the beauty of Northern Ireland and what it has to offer, I think it's such an undiscovered gem that really needs to be exposed to the masses.

"I've got loads of different ideas over the pond alongside various Olympic sports. I did my Lockdown Lowdown series and that was ace, so I'd love to bring that to life over the next few months as we get closer to the Olympics.

"Northern Ireland-wise, there's a huge scope for documentaries on the natural beauty on your doorstep. And I think we have some athletes with some fascinating stories to tell and I want to be the person that goes in there and brings people's personalities to life. Not every sportsperson is a closed book and I want to unearth those amazing personalities.

"It'll be interesting to see where this journey takes me."

That journey starts next week when she heads over to Switzerland for her third consecutive LAAX Open. And while one exciting and successful career has come to an end, all the signs point to another that is only just beginning.

Belfast Telegraph