It was April 21, 2011— right in the middle of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival — and the GLC (perhaps Whistler’s busiest après spot, for the uninitiated) was packed on a sunny spring afternoon.
Photo courtesy of CFSA
From left, Peter Judge, Matt Margetts, Justin Dorey, Mike Riddle, Sarah Burke, Trennon Paynter, Dania Assaly, Keltie Hansen, Megan Gunning and Noah Bowman gather for the official introduction of the Canadian halfpipe ski team at the GLC in April 2011.
There were hundreds more outside the bar watching a free concert in Skiers Plaza — I think Black Mountain was the band, but it really doesn’t matter. What was happening inside the GLC that day was much more important.
It had been about two weeks since the IOC had announced it would accept halfpipe skiing as an Olympic discipline for the 2014 Olympics, which were going to take place at Russian resort we knew little about.
Towards the back of the room, crammed together at the only two tables available, were all of Canada’s best halfpipe skiers, awaiting an announcement from Canadian Freestyle Ski Association CEO Peter Judge. Standing to address the group, Judge was about to speak, but had to move out of the way for a waitress carrying an order of Ahi Tuna Crisps to some other table.
It was there, at the back of a bar, huddled around the Crystal Globe it had just won, that the Canadian halfpipe team was officially introduced and brought into the CFSA fold. It was there, over the murmur of the GLC crowd and the roar of the rock show outside, that Judge declared Canada would win two medals in this new Olympic discipline in Sochi.
On Thursday, Roz Groenewoud and Keltie Hansen have a chance to make Judge’s prophecy come true. Yet, 34 months ago, there was no way to predict the journey this team would take to get there.
Of course, the new team Judge unveiled that day wasn’t really new at all. The athletes had been self-funding and operating their own, “unofficial” Canadian halfpipe team under coach Trennon Paynter for years. The 2002 Olympian had already been working with then-reigning world champion Mike Riddle for nearly a decade, and the others — Sarah Burke, Justin Dorey, Groenewoud, Matt Margetts et al — would join in the years that followed.
The significance of the announcement came from the aid and support the skiers would soon be receiving to chase their long-held Olympic dreams.
“Ever since I was this big,” Burke said that day,
holding her hand waist-high, “people would ask me: ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ And it’s always been ‘Go to the Olympics.’”
She never got the chance.
Even if he had known then that Burke wouldn’t be there with her Canadian teammates in Sochi, Judge’s guess of two Olympic medals wouldn’t have been a stretch. But for any of these skiers to catch the attention of Captain Kirk back then sure would have seemed like one.
This day feels like it took place forever ago now. But it was also one that set the stage for the impressive performances of Riddle, Noah Bowman, Dorey and Margetts in Sochi this week.
I’m not certain why, as I watched Riddle be interviewed on CBC’s Olympic Overnight, the memory of this moment in the team’s history came flooding back. Perhaps it’s because Riddle’s silver must feel extremely rewarding, not just for the him, but for Paynter as well after a dozen years together.
Or because the team earned the opportunity to truly Celebrate Sarah from the podium, and honour her memory with a triumph at the Games she fought so hard to be a part of.
“Sarah pushed the sport and in a lot of ways I don’t think it would be where it is today without her,” Riddle told Olympic Overnight hosts Andi Petrillo and Andrew Chang. “I don’t think it would have been in the Olympics. We all owe a debt to Sarah, and she’s been on my mind and in my heart this whole week, and I’ve been thinking about her lots.”
But I also think it’s because it represented a time when each of the athletes’ Olympic dreams had become a reality. On Tuesday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Riddle must have felt everything was a little bit surreal.
“To see it all the way to fruition,” he said Wednesday, “from… it not even being a World Cup or world championship discipline, all the way to being into the Olympics, then to go to the Olympics and bring home a medal, it’s unbelievable.”