Pat Burgener: "Inspiring young people at a crucial moment in their careers"
For Pat Burgener, an international freestyle snowboarder, guitarist and singer-songwriter, his sport and music are deeply intertwined – but are artforms that require creativity. More than anything, the two-time half-pipe World Championship medallist and 5th placed athlete at the Games in PyeongChang in 2018 loves sharing his passion and experience with those younger than him, which is precisely what he does in his role as an Ambassador for the YOG Lausanne 2020. Below we chat to an artist who knows where he's going.
Tell us about the early days…
I had problems, I was a rebel at school. I always wanted to do something different from the others, and that's how I started snowboarding. It was as simple as that. I also tried lots of other sports: skateboarding, football and tennis, but it was snowboarding that really got me hooked, as I loved the mountains. I started practising freestyle, I was never interested in speed – in anything "Alpine" – but I was interested in the artistic aspect. I also play music because it's much like me. It's art.
Do you think that your sport and music are similar from an artistic point of view ?
Yes, absolutely, 100 per cent. All my colleagues who do Alpine skiing seem to be a lot less creative. Whereas if you follow snowboarders, they all have projects on the side. They are all involved in highly creative things. It's part of our job. I don't mean anything against other sports. If you play classical music, most of it is about reading scores, while for rock, the blues and electronic music, your whole career is based on finding new sounds, writing and creating something new.
When did you get wrapped up in music ?
I started playing the guitar at the age of 5. I had a few years of lessons and stopped the year that I started snowboarding, then I brought my guitar with me to the competitions. I felt a real need to have it with me. Up to the age of 18, I had no idea what I would do as regards music. But I got injured, and then I fell in love with song-writing and performing live especially. That's what I love. Music is about writing, that's the creative part, like training for snowboarding when you do new tricks, and giving a live concert is like being in a competition. At my first concert, when I was injured, I was after a bit of that adrenaline, and I thought that was where I wanted to be.
Why did you become an Ambassador for Lausanne 2020 ?
I wanted to get involved in Lausanne 2020 after the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, where I came 5th in the final. I saw how intense it could be for an athlete's career. I grew up in Lausanne, the Olympic Capital no less. I had just left behind an experience like that, and the YOG are for younger athletes, those coming up through the ranks. I've always been close to them, especially those in snowboarding. I like spending time in their company. It's an incredible thing to be able to share, to push them to live a life like mine. They're at a crucial moment in their careers: it's make or break time. I also went through that. And I really enjoy supporting them transitioning through this particular stage. Everything I do today, on social media, etc. is mostly to inspire people.
Speaking of your sports career, what have been your highlights ?
There are lots of them. Every season has something special, every week of travelling brings something new, and I try different things all the time. It's a story with a beginning but with no end yet in sight – you have to make sure that every moment is as good as the previous one. In terms of results, the things that I have enjoyed the most are the bronze medal that I won at the World Championships in Sierra Nevada two years ago, the one I won this year in Park City, and of course the 2018 Olympic Games. You prepare for these moments for so many years, you know it's every two years for the World Championships and four for the Olympic Games. There is the pressure of a country behind you. Everyone at home is watching you, and it's really then that you have to show that you are giving everything and that it's not for nothing.
Which athletes inspired you ?
I've been inspired by many people, both musicians and snowboard stars. In particular there was Shaun White, who I watched when I was younger, and others too. All these people who I followed have helped me know who I am today. I think it's the same for the younger ones: I'm not the only one, but I am one of those who can influence their lives.
What do you do in your role as Ambassador ?
I write messages, I put on concerts, for example at the "One-year-to-go" ceremony in February. That's what I'm currently doing. I am also on-site, I really believe in the project, and that's the important thing. I've also taken part in a promotional campaign against concussion, which is something that is extremely relevant to me personally, as well as many other athletes. I have a great project to film, with a clip that will come out before the Lausanne YOG.
Will you give a concert at the Youth Olympic Games in 2020 ?
Yes, I hope so! I think I will. For me, it's a "dead season" with no world championships, no Olympic Games, so it's a perfect opportunity to spend my time on the YOG, and then there's another project, a film on young refugees in Lebanon. I think I'm going to spend my 2019-20 winter on that, on the Lausanne YOG and on this more personal project. I will be there from the opening in Lausanne. I think I'll do a concert, well I don't know exactly, but something will be organised.
What do you think about it as someone who is from Lausanne ?
For me, the major appeal of the YOG is that the young athletes are at a tricky time in their careers. It's a really big step for them to go to the "junior" Olympic Games! It's already incredible that this competition has been set up – it gives early hope to young athletes who want to make a living from their sport and reach Olympic level. The fact that it's in Lausanne is even more incredible. It's where I grew up, so it really means a great deal to me. It's where I went to school every morning, where I drew on the walls… where I rebelled. Now I'm here, I can be part of it. It's really important and it matters a lot to me. Seeing youngsters from across the world come to our city, seeing them dream, that's what makes me smile…