Bend coach leads snowboarder to Olympic gold

Rob Roy helps Swiss rider win women’s parallel giant slalom

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin / @MarkMorical

Rob Roy has been coaching skiing and snowboarding for about 40 years — and now he is part of an Olympic gold medal.

Roy, a longtime Bend resident, serves as coach for Switzerland’s Patrizia Kummer, who on Wednesday won the gold medal in women’s parallel giant slalom snowboarding at the Sochi Olympics.

Kummer, 26, cruised to victory when Tomoka Takeuchi of Japan missed a gate midway through the second run of the finals.

Roy, a Canadian, has been the alpine snowboarding coach for Team Canada for the last year and a half, and Kummer has been training with Roy and the Canadians since last June.

Reached via cellphone in Russia on Wednesday, Roy said coaching an athlete to an Olympic gold medal is “always a coach’s dream.”

“She’s completed a full training cycle with us, and that’s really rewarding to think that she spent all that time with us,” Roy said of Kummer. “We gained from her presence and she gained from ours. It’s been a great relationship, and that’s been nice.”

Parallel giant slalom starts with 16 riders, who are bracketed based on qualifying times posted earlier in the day. From there, the head-to-head racing consists of two trips down the mountain for each snowboarder, with the fastest rider in each pairing over the two heats advancing to the next round.

“In our event, you have to take 10 runs to win,” Roy said. “It’s not like ski racing when you take one or two. It takes a real different approach to win an event. It’s a whole-day process. (Kummer) is a real champion. From a coaching standpoint, you don’t often get somebody like Patrizia. She’s incredibly committed, incredibly talented, and incredibly strong mentally. Because of all that, she has a way of just wearing the other competitors down. She’s incredible.”

In all Wednesday, four snowboarders coached by Roy finished in the top 10 in the women’s parallel giant slalom, as three Canadians also fared well: Marianne Leeson finished fifth, Caroline Calve was sixth, and Ariane Lavigne took eighth.

Women’s alpine snowboarding continues at the Sochi Games on Saturday with the parallel slalom. Roy said he likes Kummer’s and the Canadians’ chances in that event.

“I think, including Patrizia, my sense is that we could probably get another medal,” Roy said.

A longtime ski coach, Roy, 65, got his start in snowboarding at the Bend-based Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation in 1989 when a couple of snowboarders asked if he would coach them.

“I didn’t know a thing (about snowboarding), but I told them I’d train them like skiers until we know what it’s all about,” Roy recalled on Wednesday. “Over the years, we figured out the technique.”

He moved on to coach the World Pro Snowboard Team during the 1990s. That team included snowboard racers from around the world and was based in Bend.

Roy coached former Central Oregon resident Chris Klug in both the 1998 Nagano Games and the 2010 Vancouver Games as the U.S. alpine snowboarding coach. Klug won a bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, but Roy was not there with him.

“I’ve been at it a long time,” Roy said. “I’ve had a number of other athletes that I have coached, but I wasn’t actually at the Olympics with them. This is nice to be able to say I had a direct influence on (Kummer’s gold medal performance).”

Roy said Kummer approached him last year and asked if he would coach her individually. He told the Team Canada staff that it presented a “strategic opportunity” for the Canadian snowboarders to train with Kummer. The Swiss national team supported Kummer’s decision to train with Roy.

“We just made a strategic alliance, and met with a number of people from Switzerland,” Roy said. “The general feeling over there (in Switzerland) was if Patrizia wants it, we’ll just figure out a way to make it happen. That’s really what drove the whole thing.”

While alpine snowboarding has declined in popularity in the United States, where it has become somewhat overshadowed by snowboardcross, halfpipe and slopestyle, the discipline is still a high-profile pursuit in Europe and Canada.

“People here (in Sochi) were just so excited,” Roy said. “It was just over the top in terms of excitement, and incredibly close racing. I think the sport still has a lot of merit. It’s exciting. I just think it needs to be maybe revamped and freshened up a little bit.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com