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Four freestylers off to Olympics

Good week for Harle, who wins in Mammoth, earns slot

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On Jan. 21, Teal Harle picked up his second career FIS World Cup victory at California's Mammoth Mountain.

The very next day, the 21-year-old slopestyle specialist was officially named to Canada's freestyle ski team alongside fellow Whistlerite Yuki Tsubota as well as Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, Alex Bellemare, Evan McEachran, Dara Howell and Kim Lamarre.

In a Jan. 22 interview, Harle said he knew he had to perform well at Mammoth to crack the team but said for the sake of his nerves he never inquired how well. As it turned out, a top-10 finish would have done the trick, so he knew he punched his ticket to PyeongChang with the podium-topper.

"I hadn't actually asked the question until afterwards. That's when my coach said 'If you didn't get top 10, you'd be (done),'" he said. "There was just the comp stress. Nothing extra."

While he tried to keep his mind away from Olympic qualification, Harle said it was a wonderful feeling to clinch his spot.

"It just feels good that it's confirmed officially. That's awesome and definitely super exciting. I don't think it's really set in yet," the 21-year-old said. "I just want to have fun and enjoy the process, go and be there at the Games and soak it all up."

Harle explained the competition itself turned out well in spite of some less-than-stellar conditions during training.

"The first few training days (had) bad speed with sticky rails and bad weather but the contest day was all perfect," he said. "They changed both of the jumps (for the competition). They dug out both of the landings because they were too big and the speed wasn't there, so they made them smaller.

"It was a lot easier to make the jumps, which was really nice. Even though we hadn't necessarily trained on the jump, we had the speed, so that was way better."

Like Harle, Tsubota's candidacy came down to Mammoth, but was more reliant on her competitors than her. With five athletes competing for four slots, her hopes lay in not being bumped out of her slot by two outstanding performances.

"The last couple of months have been so stressful. Last week I was at the last string of events and I'm just so glad it's over," she said. "It came down not so much to how I did but how other athletes did... There were two other girls below us and if they had both done really well, I would have gotten bumped out.

"I didn't sleep the night before. I didn't eat."

Tsubota described her season as "OK." After a season-opening eighth in New Zealand, she's finished just outside the top 10 in her other three events, including 14th at Mammoth.

One major development for her this season, though, is the addition of the switch 900 to her arsenal after a year of tinkering. It made its debut in Aspen.

"I didn't care about how I did; I really wanted to add this trick into my run and put down the run, so I was happy I was able to do that," she said.

The 23-year-old will be attending her second Games in February.

Her first, in Sochi, Russia in 2014, didn't go exactly according to plan as she crashed dramatically in her final run, suffering a concussion and broken cheekbone en route to a sixth-place finish.

"I still had a great time in 2014 and I don't regret anything. It's not something I'm upset about," Tsubota said. "I'm still really proud of how I did and how I skied. It's not something I need to put behind me."

PIPE DREAMS REALIZED

Whistler is also sending a pair of halfpipe athletes in the form of Simon d'Artois and Cassie Sharpe, while Squamish's Mike Riddle and Roz Groenewoud will join Calgary's Noah Bowman.

Sharpe, who has three World Cup wins this season, felt the first one in the season opener in New Zealand helped seal the deal.

"When I won, I called my mom and I said 'Mom, I'm going to the Olympics,' so I knew at that time that I had a really, really good chance," Sharpe said.

In the hours following her confirmation, Sharpe said she received an outpouring of good vibes after the 25-year-old revealed her exciting news.

"I'm blown away by the love and support that I've been getting today. I've known for a couple of months that I'd made the team and I just couldn't publicly say anything yet," she said in a Jan. 22 interview. "Just being able to put it out into the world and let Canada know that I'm going to represent them feels really good."

With this only being the second Games that halfpipe skiing has been on offer, Sharpe acknowledged the Olympics weren't exactly a dream she grew up with. But after the debut in Sochi, Russia in 2014, the dream started the grow.

"I knew that I wanted to get here. I just didn't know, at that point, how. Since joining the Canadian team in 2015, I've really had an opportunity to hone my skills and build myself up," she said. "Once I started making finals and doing well in the World Cups, I figured that if I kept on pushing and kept on building my love and passion for it that I could go."

With a killer start to the season, Sharpe feels like she's exactly where she wants to be heading into the Olympics.

"I'm really confident in my riding and in myself," she said. "My mental state has been really good lately. I'm working with a lot of good people in Canada's freestyle community.

"I feel good going into the Games and I'm just pumped to go, have fun and represent Canada the best that I can."

Meanwhile, d'Artois has cooled a bit after a red-hot start to the season that saw him take third at Cardrona and then again at Copper Mountain Resort, but those early-season medals were enough to punch his ticket.

Even more impressive is that the odds were against d'Artois, as he was bumped to Freestyle Canada's B team at the start of the season before being called up to the A team for December and January.

"I'm trying to do my best not to think about the competition and things like that. I definitely had a good start to the season but then November, December and January didn't quite go as I wanted it to," he said. "I'm working hard to get my skiing at a competitive level. I feel good about it."

The journey to the Games has been a roller coaster for d'Artois, who captured gold in the superpipe at the X Games in 2015 but then lost nearly two years of action to injury before returning in February 2017.

"It's a persistence thing. I knew that if I stuck with it and worked my hardest that good things would come — or at least I hoped they would. It was definitely difficult at times with injury, just mentally wondering how long I wanted to do this or if I wanted to keep going all the way up until the Games," he said. "I'm just happy that I stuck with it."

While Harle and Sharpe were expecting the news they received, d'Artois said he had no indication of what to expect Monday morning.

"I feel pretty excited, it's pretty surreal. It's crazy to be considered an athlete going to the Olympics. I'm stoked," d'Artois said. "(I found out) an hour ago, this morning when I woke up. I wasn't quite sure but I just found out when it was released today. I saw an article on CBC.

"I had no idea."

Freestyle Canada announced two other teams: aerials and moguls. Lewis Irving, Catrine Lavallee and Olivier Rochon make up the aerials squad while Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, Justine Dufour-Lapointe, Marc-Antoine Gagnon, Mikael Kingsbury, Philippe Marquis, Andi Naude and Audrey Robichaud will make up the moguls team.

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