‘I’ve always had a love for speed,’ says Olympics-bound Utah ski racer Bella Wright
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics is Friday, Feb. 4. The games are being held as omicron rages and China’s human rights violations loom large — with the U.S. imposing a diplomatic boycott on the games. These variables are the backdrop for athletes heading into the Olympics. Seventy-five ice skaters, snowboarders and other athletes with ties to Utah are about to experience the games — and China’s tough restrictions. Salt Lake City’s Bella Wright is among them. The 24-year-old alpine skier started racing at Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon as a child. She joined Pamela McCall to talk about her journey to the games and what she expects once she gets there.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pamela McCall: Congratulations on making it to the Olympics — your first games. How did your time as a young girl racing out of Snowbird prepare you?
Bella Wright: Growing up at Snowbird, it was the perfect place for my family. I have two older brothers, and we’ve been racing in the [Snowbird] program since we were really young — since I was about 5 years old. That Little Cottonwood Canyon family really helped prepare me.
PM: Did you have visions of going to the Olympics when you were 5 years old at Snowbird?
BW: Absolutely. As long as I can remember, I have been dreaming of going to the Olympics, and it's a pretty surreal moment. It's still hard to believe it's my reality.
PM: You thrive in speed events — the downhill and the super giant slalom. So listeners have a better idea of what you do, can you describe those disciplines for us?
BW: I've always had a love for speed, and with super-G and downhill, you're going at least 65 mph, and you can hit up to 85 mph. They're just the really fast and really dangerous events in our sport. It's kind of a drug in itself.
PM: What's it like in the starting gate before you hit the course? And what do you imagine it's going to feel like when it's your turn to race at the Olympics?
BW: It'll be my first time in an Olympic start gate, but in general, I think it changes every time. Sometimes I'm pretty nervous, sometimes I'm amped up. I know there's going to be some nerves there, but I think most of all, it's just going to be an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness and excitement to be there.
PM: There are other hurdles, Bella, other than nerves to
contend with. These games are riddled with issues. Let's start with COVID. What protocols do you have to follow once you get to Beijing?
BW: Right now I'm in a really tight bubble, and I've been in a tight bubble for quite some time now. When we go over to China, it'll be a very similar situation. We have to be really careful, and everyone will be in their certain bubbles. So definitely going to be a different experience for a lot of people who have been to the Olympics before.
PM: Are you going to miss the roar of fans, or things like face-to-face interviews with reporters?
BW: Absolutely. My very first year on the World Cup, I got to experience a few races with full crowds and the energy was amazing. And since then, I haven't really had it. And so I really am going to miss fans, especially at a big event, at the Olympics.
PM: The backdrop for these games is very tricky indeed. The U.S. has imposed a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games because of human rights violations, and some Utah officials, like Sen. [Mitt] Romney, have applauded that decision. How does it feel to represent your country, and state, in the midst of this political strife, including China flying fighter jets over Taiwan?
BW: I'm just proud and honored that I get to represent my country, and I think that there's a lot going on in the world right now, but I'm part of something that's much bigger than me. And I think first and foremost, it's just about going there and representing my country well. And having the honor to have the flag on my back is my biggest motive.
PM: How do you stay focused, training and competing, when there's so much going on with how the games will be conducted?
BW: I think that without there being so much outside influence, it could play to my advantage, having it be my first Olympic Games. Maybe it won't feel so big that it's unachievable. So the biggest thing for me is just to feel grateful and feel honored and do what I do.
PM: What's the mood like back in Park City, home of the U.S. ski team, as you head into the games?
BW: I think everyone's very stressed. Everyone is trying to keep the athletes protected. I train at the Center of Excellence, and you can tell that the staff feels a lot of pressure to make sure they keep athletes healthy. Everyone's getting more excited the closer we get, but it's definitely been a little stressful.