When it came to the 2010 Olympics, Mercedes Nicoll just wanted to have fun.
The Whistler-raised halfpipe snowboarder finished 27 th in Torino, a position that left few predicting she'd be a contender on home turf. On Thursday at Cypress, however, Nicoll defied the odds and finished sixth in women's halfpipe, despite falling on her last run.
It was a sweet victory for a spritely young boarder whose previous international success was eclipsed by a single event four years ago. She has won World Cup medals but when the Olympics come to town little of that seems to matter.
Nicoll finally found Olympic success in the 2010 halfpipe event, through persistent and consistent performances in each round. She advanced to the semifinals after placing 10 th in the qualifying round with a score of 34.6. She then placed third in the semis with a score of 34.3.
In the finals, her first run score was far better than that of eventual gold medal winner Torah Bright. But the Australian Bright came through with an incredible second run. Nicoll finished sixth - the second-best result ever for a Canadian athlete in Olympic halfpipe competition.
All this for a competitor who was just looking to have a great time.
Nicoll's journey to 2010 began in London, England, where mother Alix worked in clothing retail and her father John was a property manager. The couple came to Western Canada in 1974 and settled in West Vancouver - but they spent their weekends in Whistler, then an undeveloped Eden for avid skiers.
Alix remembers it as a "very small town" where the two of them found "lots of close friends" and incredible ski terrain. She recalls most fondly a weekly ritual: she and John would ski their last run of the day and end up at L'Après for drinks.
The Nicoll kids grew up in West Vancouver until 1995, when the family decided to move to Whistler. Mercedes was born in 1983 and started out her athletic life as a figure skater and skier. She caught the snowboarding bug after moving to Whistler, just as the sport was gaining mainstream popularity.
"We were out here for spring break one year and she and a bunch of friends decided to do one of those three day programs to learn how to snowboard," Alix recalls. "That's what she did with about three or four other kids and she never looked back. She reckoned she'd found her sport and that was it."
Mercedes showed a particular deftness for the sport when she started competing in her early teens. She did halfpipe, boardercross and gate competitions and racked up wins in junior worlds contests.