By Kristina Rutherford, Sportsnet
Gerard Maltais can’t watch. He stares down at his boots, eyes hidden behind a white-brimmed ball cap. Embroidered in red thread on the side of that hat is a picture of the reason he can’t stand to see what’s happening on the slopes of Rosa Khutor’s Extreme Park: Dominique Maltais. That’s his daughter.
Maltais is tearing down the course in the snowboard cross semifinal. The 33-year-old veteran is in fourth, and needs a top-three finish to advance to the final. This event, which sees six snowboarders at a time rip over huge jumps and navigate sharp turns, features a heck of a lot of spills. Four years ago in Vancouver, where Maltais was a medal threat, she crashed out. And earlier today, teammate and reigning Olympic champion Maelle Ricker—considered a favourite for a repeat podium—suffered the same fate. Ricker went down in her quarterfinal heat.
When Maltais’s father looks up again at the screen he’s watching at the bottom of the run, his daughter is in second place. A smile sweeps across his face. He doesn’t know it yet, because he wasn’t watching, but American Lindsey Jacobellis went down and Maltais dodged her—just. Maltais wins the semifinal heat. Gerard exhales. But the lump is still in his stomach.
“I’ve eaten barely anything today,” he says. “I couldn’t.”
Minutes later, at the top of the mountain, his daughter—the Olympic bronze medallist in 2006—gives her right shoulder a firm slap, then pumps her arms and bobs her knees. It’s go-time.
He watches as she storms out of the gate. It’s “Oooh” when she’s in third. The hands go up when she moves up to second, with a comfortable lead on third place. Then comes the grin as she crosses the line and pumps her fist. A silver medal. Maltais is the first woman ever to win two Olympic medals in the event.
Later, she comes through the media gauntlet, her hair in a side ponytail, pearls in her ears, podium flowers in her left hand. “I’m so happy it’s done, and I made it, and I finished on the podium,” she says.
Gerard couldn’t agree more. “Total happiness,” he says. “And relief. Now I can go eat.”