Now relaxing in Eagle, alpine snowboarder Meghan Tierney is taking some time to reflect on the crazy end to the 2019-20 season.
Sick and convalescing in Austria, Tierney had to make a dramatic exit from Europe in March as her season came to an abrupt halt. She then returned home to one of the country’s coronavirus hot spots, with an infected parent and a lot of uncertainty about what would come next for her.
But when the dust had settled, she learned that she herself had only been infected with strep throat — not coronavirus — and the early end to the competition season had secured her the overall victory in the Europa Cup, a coveted achievement in snowboardcross racing’s especially competitive European Continental Cup.
‘Switch it up’
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The Continental Cup level is a step below the World Cup; in North America the Nor-Am circuit is the Continental Cup of choice for many aspiring World Cup racers.
But after winning the Nor-Am overall in 2014, Tierney found the transition into World Cup difficult for a teenager trying to adjust to the top level of competition. While Tierney was a regular on the podium in Nor-Am competitions, in most World Cup races she did not make it past qualifications into the quarterfinal competition of 16 racers.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, Tierney decided to take her competition to a competition level some consider to be between Nor-Am and World Cup, the Europa Cup.
Tierney said the decision was mainly driven by the amount of competitions and courses available in Europe.
“I just felt like there was more opportunity to get on snow in Europe, and it was fun to ride with the European riders, switch it up,” she said. “And the courses for Europa Cup this last year were really great, so I think that was a good choice.”
Tierney raced in Austria, France, Switzerland and Germany before ending the season with a World Cup race in Spain on March 7.
The Europa Cup training proved helpful, as she ended the season with her best World Cup finish in more than two years.
Tierney left Spain for Austria, where she became ill with strep throat. She recovered in a hotel room for a few days, then got word that the rest of the season had been canceled.
“I got an email saying the borders were going to be shut down coming in from Europe, so I packed everything and left the next day,” she said. “Thank god my mom works for United; she was able to get me out.”
Tierney’s mother is a gate agent at the Eagle County airport. She became infected with coronavirus during the height of the spread.
“She recovered and now has the antibodies,” Tierney said of her mother.
Meghan said she had suspected perhaps it was coronavirus and not strep throat which had made her ill in Europe.
“Shockingly enough, I got the antibody test and it came back negative,” she said.
A few weeks later, Tierney learned she had been nominated to the U.S. Ski Team’s development team once again for next season. The team is for athletes ages 23 and younger; Tierney turned 23 in January.
“My goal for this season was just to improve, and I was able to do that,” she said. “As long as I can keep improving I think I’ll be in good shape.”
In highlighting Tierney’s achievement along with several other U.S. snowboarders this season, Andrew Gauthier with the U.S. Ski Team wrote that the future of the U.S. Snowboard Team looks bright.
“When looking back on a season, performances on the World Cup level are important, but not the whole picture,” Gauthier wrote. “In a sport that progresses at a rapid pace, the athlete pipeline is critical to developing the future.”
For athletes in that development pipeline, however, getting to events, and getting through a competition season can be difficult. In addition to the help she receives from her parents, Tierney says she’s lucky to have some sponsorship help from health and wellness company Xendurance.
But she could use more help, as well.
With three podium finishes in Europa Cup events during the abbreviated 2019-20 season, Tierney hopes potential sponsors will see her as an opportunity to have their logo on future podiums.
“My main goal for next season is going to be consistency,” she said.