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Halfpipe skiers ready for season in spotlight

Attention, pressure building as Olympic debut in sochi approaches



Their season is still a few weeks away from kicking off, but a spotlight that is part and parcel with the Olympics is continuing to fixate on Canada's best halfpipe skiers.

The sport will make its Olympic debut in February, and with the Whistler-based national team poised to send several podium threats to Russia for the 2014 Winter Games, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that the athletes are earning plenty of attention.

But while they've long been stars in freestyle ski circles, being thrust into mainstream as Olympians for the first time is a new challenge facing each of the athletes.

Past FIS world champions Mike Riddle and Rosalind Groenewoud have been shouldering much of that attention as Sochi draws closer and closer. In the past 12 months, Groenewoud has been the subject of extensive profiles seemingly everywhere, from

Teen Vogue to the Globe and Mail and just about every publication in between. She and Riddle are both among the featured athletes in Olympic rights-holder CBC's coverage leading up to Sochi, while just last week Riddle was the star of a lengthy segment on the Discovery Channel's Daily Planet.

But Riddle, 27, said it's something he's becoming more and more accustomed to.

"It's kind of been gradual over the last couple of years," Riddle said after a dryland training session at the Whistler Athletes' Centre on Nov. 14, where he and most national team members are finishing off an extended stay.

"The CFSA (Canadian Freestyle Ski Association) and our sponsors have given us media training, so it's kind of come in building blocks and not as a huge shock to the system. We've always been exposed to lots of media at X Games and things like that, so it's more non-endemic media that are (approaching us).

"'What's a halfpipe? What's a grab? What's a cork?' (We get) lots of silly questions like that where, for us, you don't normally think about. But you have to totally readjust your mind to be like 'Wait a minute, how do I explain this?'"

Riddle is coming off a tremendous 2012-13 season in which he racked up several podium finishes and took home the Crystal Globe as the overall FIS men's champ, so the attention is perhaps as expected as it is well-deserved.

"Mike seems to thrive off it," said teammate Justin Dorey. "I couldn't imagine having to deal with all of that."

Dorey hasn't competed much in the past two winters due to a recurring shoulder injury, but is coming into the season 100 per cent healthy and will give Canada as good a chance for halfpipe gold as any skier on the national team. For now, the 25-year-old Whistler resident is happy to be removed from the Olympic limelight.

"It's been kind of a blessing in disguise because I do a lot better when I'm kind of at the back of the pack — an underdog. I like being in this position that I'm in," said Dorey. "That being said, it would be nice to have all the sponsors and be the favoured guy going into the Games, but I feel really confident with my skiing and it's nice not having all that attention and pressure that those guys have."

Dorey had surgery on his shoulder in January and hasn't competed since, but the Vernon native has put the frustration of sitting on the sidelines behind him.

"If you're in this sport, you've got to be prepared to deal with that stuff because it's the nature of what we do," he said. "It's sketchy a lot of the time and you pay for it. But I think you could be the most talented guy in the world, but if you can't deal with injuries, you're not going to make it."