New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) scholarship athlete Jakara Anthony returned triumphantly from the 2023/24 World Cup season – a four month travelling circuit through the ski fields of Europe and North America – with her name in the record books after winning 14 gold medals from 16 starts; the overall Freestyle Crystal Globe and the Single Mogul Crystal Globe which acknowledge the Australian’s ranking as the No.1 athlete in those disciplines for the season.

Amid the celebrations, 25-year-old Anthony, the reigning Winter Olympic gold medallist, made a point of highlighting the importance her coach, Peter McNiel [photographed with fellow coach Kate Blamey], when she was asked to name the person who’d had the greatest influence on her career.

“The biggest influence on my career would be my coach, Pete,” said Anthony without a moment’s hesitation. “I’ve been working on and off with him since I was 12, and pretty much fulltime since I was 16-17.

“To have that continuity with him throughout my career has been very important. He’s been through all the major, major, highs with me – and all the major, major lows. It’s been very special to go on that journey with him, and I honestly wouldn’t still be in this sport if it wasn’t for Pete.

“And I wouldn’t be the person – or athlete – I am without him.”

NSWIS took time out to find out during McNeil’s and Anthony’s recent visit to the Institute’s HQ in Sydney what, exactly, makes the Moguls coach tick – and we quickly discovered the importance of a coach and athlete sharing trust and belief.

NSWIS: It’s never a fluke when an athlete has a season like Jakara’s – 14 wins from 16 World Cups – was it a case of the ultimate goals being reached?

Peter McNiel [PMc]: It was phenomenal. I don’t think it was expected that she’d perform at that level. We made a huge effort to work on all the things in her profile; to keep stepping forward mentally and making the changes that needed to be made to help her continue to perform at her best level. Results come and go . . . you can’t control the results . . . but we make sure we’re are keeping a good eye on Jakara’s progression; always trying to go forward. We try, all the time, to create the best skill level.

NSWIS: How do you describe Jakara as an athlete? Have you pinpointed where everything she’s doing stems from?

PMc: [Laughs] It’s a tough question, isn’t it? I don’t think I can sum it up . . . it’s a bit of a challenge. The effort, the commitment and the consistency by Jakara is very high end. She really doesn’t leave much on the table when it comes to the overall process of trying to perfect her craft. She really is a bit of a perfectionist who isn’t happy to sit still on something – and she never feels near enough is good enough. She wants to consume the mastery in all the areas of her sport.

NSWIS: How did you both meet?

PMc: So, I skied at Mount Buller for most of my younger years, and Jakara’s family skied at Mount Buller. I was the Head coach of the Team Buller Riders when Jakara came into that program as a young kid. I think she was 11. She was an interesting story in that she was always a good skier but I wouldn’t have said at that point of time that anyone was looking at her thinking she was a phenomenal talent or anything like that. Just a good skier who really loved the sport, and one who was focused on being good at the sport. But she didn’t present as someone who you’d typically say, ‘she’s going to win an Olympic gold medal one day.’ That’s come from more intangible characteristics, rather than her being a super talented athlete identified at a young age.

NSWIS: You’ve been with Jakara at the highest and lowest times of her career. As a coach, how do you guide athletes to remain consistent through the good and bad times?

PMc: That’s a question that probably requires a PhD to answer. In any coach/athlete relationship there has to be a lot of trust and a lot of belief. And trust needs to go both ways, it can’t be a one-sided relationship. You build that through going through the bad times, as well as going through great experiences. You break through barriers together and work on them. In our team – not just Jakara – we’ve had our fair share of injuries, our fair share of celebrations. Our Mogul team is getting stronger. Our culture is getting stronger, we’re there to support each other and we have a lot of belief in one another. And that’s really important, especially in a sport where, when you go out on the hill you are risking injury. It is somewhat of an extreme sport, so you need to have a lot of belief and trust in one another. You also need to work at building those relationships because we’re on the road for a long time – 11 months a year. I’ve slept in my own bed 20 nights this year, maximum – and you don’t have your family or friends with you. The nature of our sport is we train in environments that aren’t our environment. We’re either at Perisher on a ski hill, or overseas, or Brisbane training at the Geoff Henke Olympic Winter Training Centre.

NSWIS: Do you think people realise how huge a commitment is involved in winter sport?

PMc: All sport is a huge commitment, ours is a huge commitment away from home as well as the commitment to the sport. It’s a seasonal and geographically [based sport] that requires us to be away.

NSWIS: I’d imagine you would think it was important for Jakara to celebrate her season, but when do you start planning for the competitions ahead?

PMc: As a team we’re big on celebrating the little victories along the way. We’re also big on commiserating as a team. In sport things go well, things go badly, but we try to take time to celebrate moments. Winning . . . winning . . .  is the byproduct of achieving the things we’re trying to achieve in the sport, and it warrants celebration. But, I don’t think at any point in time has Jakara ever wanted to stop to have a big ceremony, so we won’t have a big single break. But you do need to stop and reflect and appreciate what’s happened. I think, for us, because we are away a lot, you want to stop and do that in little parts.

NSWIS: Is the rest of the world asking you what it is you’re doing? And are they amazed that Australia is doing so well?

PMc: I don’t think so. Everyone watches what each does out on the hill, to try and work out what’s making a difference. I certainly look at every other person that does our sport to try and analyse what they’re doing well – or where I think they’re falling short. I try to adjust our program based on that. I don’t think anyone is amazed by how Australia is going, everyone knows about Jakara’s commitment to the sport, they’re aware of her consistency, and can see what she’s doing well. I think having an athlete win 14 out of 16 [World Cup gold medals] wasn’t surprising because of the fact Jakara is an Australian, I think they were more surprised she was able to produce that level of consistency and performance week on week. I think as a nation we do overachieve in winter sport – not just in moguls, but all winter sports. We’ve had athletes win Crystal Globes this year in a number of winter sport disciplines. We’ve had a heap of podiums too, this year, probably the most in Australia’s winter sport history. I suppose people would wonder what’s in the drinking water, but, as a whole we have great sporting systems, we have athletes who want to work hard, and because we do come from the southern hemisphere where there’s shorter winters, we do need to innovate more than if you have snow on the ground every day of the year – so to speak.

NSWIS: The Olympics are still a long way away, so how does Jakara, and the rest of the team, maintain the rage?

PMc: The team is pursuing something that goes beyond just results. Obviously, we want to get results, on competition day you’re out there and doing whatever you can to get the best possible result and the win. But the driving force behind what we do isn’t always winning an event, it’s the pursuit of excellence and mastering the sport. We all get into a sport like skiing and take it to another level because we all love the feeling of skiing and jumping and it’s executing those skills at a very high level. When you get to the root of it, every time you get better the feelings that are associated with that are so internally rewarding, they drive you to keep going forward. If we always keep in mind our purpose and why we started it’s a lot easier to pursue that level of excellence rather than just hoping to stand at the top of the box.

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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