Introducing...Bubba Newby (Freestyle Halfpipe Skier)

A SPECIAL childhood memory and the introduction of his sport into the Winter Olympics meant Brendan ‘Bubba’ Newby (25) achieved his childhood dream in PyeongChang  four years ago.

“My dad took me to a couple of the events at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and since then I always wanted to be an Olympian but the sport I chose (freestyle halfpipe skiing) wasn’t in the Olympics. That all changed in 2014 and suddenly it was an option.

“So to do it, with my whole family there in PyeongChang, was surreal. It took me a few months to understand it really happened, for it to sink in,” he says of finishing 22nd in the halfpipe on his Olympic debut.

“Then I definitely had a slump because there’s that element of ‘I’ve already done the best I can do, what do I do now?’ I took up dirt-biking and took my dog fishing and kept busy, instead of reminiscing.

“Back then I thought I wouldn’t try for Beijing but I had such an outrageously good experience that I wanted to do it again if I could and now here I am four years later.”

Not only has the 25 -year-old from Utah qualified for a second Winter Games, he goes to Beijing with a new coach in a particularly unique pairing.

Bubba was born in Cork 25 years ago when his father Van, a professor of economics, spent two years teaching in UCC.

His new coach, Ian Burson,  has much more distant but some particularly meaningful connections to Ireland.

“Ian is a great skier who almost made the US team but apart from being a great man he is also a Chocktaw native American and has told me about their connection to Ireland.

“He’s explained that right after they got kicked out of their own land here, they collected a bunch of money and sent it to Ireland to help the Irish people during the potato famine.”

The Choctaw Nation were indeed remarkably generous 175 years ago when they collected $170 and sent it to Ireland to help starving families.

A sculpture of nine eagle feathers now marks their generosity in Midleton, Co Cork and its name - ‘Kindred Spirits’ – seems appropriate for this Irish Winter Olympics duo.

An excellent first run in 2018 saw Bubba lying 13th after the first round of freestyle halfpipe but he fell on a landing on his second run.

“I think I’m skiing a lot better now than I was back then,” he says of pulling off his first ‘double’ in Austria in November.

“It’s a left double flare, like a double side-flip. It’s been in my head, just giving me nightmares, for seven to 10 years and was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done so it was nice to finally do it.

“I’ve also added a really good switch (backwards) Cork Seven which is two spins with a ‘cork’ so upside-down, and also a right Cork Nine, which is two and a half spins forward with a flip.”
Qualifying for Beijing was difficult because he took most of the 2019 season off, not knowing that, due to Covid disruptions, that would backfire on him.

“I just did one competition in 2019 to retain my place on the World Cup. I spent the rest of the year skiing with my friends to get the love back but now it’s turned out that they’ve included results from 2019 for Olympic rankings. It’s usually just the previous two years.”

That’s just given him an intense qualification period of four back-to-back World Cups in the past month but he finished inside the world’s top 30 in each of them and secured his qualification with a 27th in Mammoth on January 8.

“To do a snow sport for a country that doesn’t have snow, and to be accepted and supported so well by everyone in 2018, that’s a big reason why I decided to go again,” he explains.

“If any Irish kids can see me and say ‘that’s possible’ and get into it, that would be the coolest thing in the world for me. That’s kinda what happened with me and Seamus (O’Connor, Ireland’s Olympic snowboarder.)

“I saw him competing for Ireland  in 2014 and thought ‘oh, could I do that too?’ so I went for it and now I want to be that person for someone else.”

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