As snow dumped on the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Tuesday, Feb. 18, Mike Riddle didn't seem to be bothered at all.
While other skiers were dialing back their runs for the conditions, the Canadian halfpipe team member decided to go big on his first two hits, nailing back-to-back double cork 1260s in competition for the first time.
Riddle captured a silver medal in the Olympic debut of men's halfpipe skiing, finishing just behind American favourite David Wise. France's Kevin Rolland took bronze.
"Just to be here is unbelievable and then to get a medal — I'm speechless," Riddle told assembled media in Sochi after his podium performance. "I managed to link together some tricks that I haven't done before... I couldn't be happier with the result."
Calgary's Noah Bowman finished fifth, while Whistler resident Justin Dorey placed 12th in the final. Matt Margetts did not make it through from the qualifier.
Massive, clumping snowflakes affected speed in the pipe during both the qualification round and final on Tuesday, but Riddle seemed to thrive in the conditions.
"Knowing what to do when the weather is bad — when to hold back and when to send it — definitely is an advantage in conditions like this," said Riddle.
The 27-year-old Squamish resident, who had qualified in sixth place for the 12-man final, went for the back-to-back doubles on his first finals run but touched down slightly on the second one. When he tidied things up on his second run, the judges rewarded him with a 90.60, ranking right behind Wise's 92.00.
"You had to land really high on the transitions to be able to maintain speed for your next trick in order to link your run together," said Riddle. "So if you weren't perfect, you were done, basically. Every trick had to be pretty much perfect."
If there was any other skier in the field who looked like he could challenge Wise on Tuesday, it was Dorey.
The Vernon native had posted the top score in qualifying, and right after Wise had put down his gold-medal first run, Dorey was next to drop and looked to have the biggest and best set of tricks up his sleeve. But his second double cork attempt on the first run failed when he landed on the coping of the pipe, and he was unable to stay upright on his second run.
"I didn't come here to get fourth," Dorey said of his all-or-nothing approach on Tuesday. "I'm almost happier that I got what I did than put a conservative run and not get a medal. I went for broke. Didn't work out, but I'm still walking."
With a Crystal Globe, FIS world championship title, and now an Olympic medal, there aren't too many things left for Riddle to achieve in his sport. But he called the entire Sochi experience "bittersweet" without Sarah Burke being there to experience it all with her longtime teammates.
"It's awesome to be here but I know that she should be here, too," said Riddle. "She's been on my mind a lot this week."
Dorey, who also spent several years as Burke's teammate, going back long before halfpipe skiing was ever added to the Olympic program, echoed Riddle's sentiments.
"She'd be so proud of it," said Dorey. "We made it, we're here. This was probably her biggest dream to see our sport in the Olympics and we did it. So just that in itself is a small victory for all of us here."
Roz Groenewoud and Keltie Hansen will ski for Canada in the women's event on Thursday, Feb. 20, with finals scheduled to take place at 9:30 a.m. PST.
GERRITS FINISHES SEVENTH
Travis Gerrits was Canada's lone aerials skier in Sochi and he ended up posting a seventh-place finish in his first Olympic appearance.
The Milton, Ont., native, who earned a silver medal at last year's world championships, qualified for the 12-man final and survived the first round of jumps to advance to the final eight, but was eliminated when the field was cut down to four. Belarus's Anton Kushnir claimed the gold medal.