Even back then, there was something about him. There was a spark and just the right kind of magic.
Scotty James had the confidence and swagger of someone twice his age, but at that point he was just a kid. Scotty the kid. Fifteen-years-old, still in high school, but about to take on the world as our youngest ever winter Olympian.
It was February 2010 and I was 9NEWS’ US correspondent gearing up for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
I must admit I am a fairly average snowboarder, but I do love the sport, and I admire the fearlessness that comes with being the very best.
All the buzz around Vancouver was centred on a Flying Tomato – a red-headed American superstar named Shaun White. But I was most intrigued about Australia’s own shaggy-haired snowboarding prodigy.
About a month before the games, I flew up to Park City in Utah to meet the young man.
He was getting handy advice from some famous friends including Torah Bright – probably our best and most famous winter athlete.
We called him Baby James, like the James Taylor song, but there didn’t seem to be anything child-like in his manner or his performance. He flew down the half-pipe like an experienced skier, twisting and turning like a champion gymnast, with no concern at all for the huge drops that awaited him as he soared and flipped several metres into the cold air.
There wasn’t any expectation for Scotty to medal in Vancouver. He was a way off the skill of the world’s top 10 and he knew that. But he was only 15, and taking part in the Olympic arena was in itself an achievement, and an early look at “the big stage”. It was an experience that would serve him well, and given his age, glory would come.
I saw Scotty again four years later in Russia, for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
He’d filled out a bit more and was a bigger and better athlete. There, on the snowy mountains by the Black Sea, the now 19-year-old Scotty was a prospect but still not a medal favourite. Again, he didn’t reach the podium but again age was on his side. The next four years would be his time to shine.
About two years ago I caught up with Scotty at a Red Bull event in Sydney.
We had a laugh and a good chat about how far he’d come. I knew he would be a star, and now, as he prepares to lead Australia out as our flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony in South Korea – he is. Plus, his ascension to the top ranks of our team is backed by stunning form.
He’s now a two-time world champion on the half-pipe so he goes into this Games as a gold medal favourite. There is an expectation to medal which will bring a different type of pressure. But the now 23-year-old has never worried about that.
You don’t become the world’s best without shaking off the nerves and believing in yourself.
It’s now with some pride that I say I knew Scotty James before he was famous. Eight years ago we called him Baby James. He’s no longer Scotty the kid.
This is his third Olympics, so technically he’s an Olympic veteran (and with a few more to come!).
I’ll be watching these games hoping Scotty takes the gold, because he always thought he would. He’s still got that swagger, and that unshakable confidence.
He’s a good fella who’s worked hard, and he deserves to become an Olympic champion.