Slopestyle gold and bronze for Canada

Snowboarding didn’t work out? No worries: Our freestyle skiers had two more medals in them

by Charlie Gillis

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Another day, another double-podium performance by Canada—this time in women’s slopestyle skiing. Our weekly magazine deadline (remember magazines? nice to read? great pictures?) will keep me from going into as much detail as I’d like about this wild day at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. But I can’t help sharing at least a few.

First: the gold medal-winning run put in by Dara Howell of Huntsville, Ont. dropped jaws among people who know the sport—not least Howell’s. “I think that’s the best run I’ve done in my entire life,” she told us in the mixed zone afterward. “The course worked for me today and I could not be happier. I did the best I could and I’m just glad I came out on top as Olympic champion.”

Don’t believe her? Take the word of Canadian freestyle star Justin Dorey, who described her 94.20 as the best he’d seen by a female skier in slopestyle. It’s not that she invented new tricks, but created interesting arrangements of the old ones, and executed them perfectly. Howell was kind enough to reel off the daisy chain of moves that made up her winning routine; I’ll save myself embarrassment by not trying to describe them. Suffice it to say that the last one, something called a flat-5 bow and arrow, looked frighteningly difficult.

Second, we should all think of Kim Lamarre’s bronze medal as a silver. She scored 0.4 points less than American Devin Logan while turning in what it took me a while to realize was one of the niftier tricks of the afternoon. It’s called a zero spin, which is to say, the skier does no twisting or rotating.

The visual effect is subtle, but it’s a tough move—really tough—because the skier is travelling backwards as she does it. And Lamarre, a 25-year-old from Quebec City, merely chose to perform it off the final, biggest jump.”I did it, and I was able to get on the podium and to me that means a lot,” she beamed afterward.

There was a lot of talk about the conditions: crusty ice in the morning softening to slush in the afternoon. For the happy-go-lucky Howell, they were fine. “Hey, everybody loves spring skiing,” she said with a laugh. For others, they made it hard to regulate speed and control. Yuki Tsubota of Vancouver fell hard at the crest of the last jump and appeared to be unconscious as she slid down the hill before a grandstand full of aghast spectators.

She was removed on a body sling, but Canadian team officials told us later the 20-year-old had escaped with a jaw injury—no concussion, no broken bones. Apparently she slammed her chin to her knee, which is too bad, because hers was shaping up to be a podium-calibre run.

Which brings us to the sad case of Kaya Turski, the Olympic favourite after a surprise victory in this event at last month’s X Games. Turski had come back in record time from ACL surgery—it was unconventional, involving the implantation of synthetic tissue. But she caught a bad virus of some sort two weeks ago, and  was ailing even as she skied today.

“I don’t want this to be an excuse,” Turski, 25, told the press horde afterward. “It’s disappointing. I have to believe this moment doesn’t define who I am.”

Alas, she fell during both her qualifiers, dislocating her shoulder on the first. To her credit, the Montrealer kept her chin up and her eyes mostly dry as she navigated the corrals back to her family. The TV guys don’t follow a losing competitor very far after she leaves the slope. They’d have done well to trail Turski.

Finally, as a post-script, it should be said that the spirit of Sarah Burke, the Canadian freestyler who died two years ago after a training accident in Park City, Utah, was all around here. Numerous athletes dedicating their runs to her, and Lamarre said she sent a silent message to Burke the second she landed her zero spin: “Yeah Sarah! We did it”. A few were choked that the IOC wouldn’t let them wear commemorative stickers on their helmets as a tribute to her.

With that, I’m doing a switch-9, followed by a 540 truck driver, and I hope to land on to a bus back into Sochi.

Follow @ChasGillis on Twitter




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