INQUIRY – IAN MORRISON
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On February 9th, 2018, the 23rd Winter Olympics will begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet can have a tendency to be polarizing, particularly depending on where it’s being held, and some sports lovers, or those who couldn’t care less, consider the Games to be nothing more than brouhaha, there’s no denying that it can bring the world a bit closer together. Every two years, for two weeks, millions of people put their geopolitical, ethnic and religious differences aside, in favour of patriotically rooting for athletes aiming to overcome the odds and proudly represent the countries they call home.
Cassie Sharpe at X Games in Aspen, Colorado. Photo by Bretty Wilhelm / ESPN Images
In the midst of it all, there are countless participants who’ve endured hardships most of us will never understand, or suffered heartbreaking tragedy and loss, only to triumph in the face of adversity. There’s Dana Hussain Abdul-Razak Al-Khafaji, a female sprinter from Iraq, who was shot at by snipers while training, but soldiered on to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. During the 2006 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, for the first time, there was refugee team, comprised of athletes from war-torn nations such as Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and more, who inspired the world with their courage. And at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Joss Christensen won the first-ever men’s gold medal in ski slopestyle, just a few months after his father unexpectedly passed away. Regardless of your opinion of the Olympics, and the politics and controversy that can surround them, the athletes, and their stories, are worth cheering for.
The Canadian National Halfpipe Team in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Photo by Mike Riddle
Following years of lobbying for and against it behind the scenes, freeskiing made its long-awaited Olympic debut in 2014. When it was all said and done, the inaugural halfpipe and slopestyle events saw three pieces of hardware brought home to Canada (including Dara Howell’s gold and Kim Lamarre’s bronze in women’s slopestyle, and Mike Riddle’s silver in men’s halfpipe), and the sport was showcased to its largest audience yet, with men’s slopestyle receiving the fourth-highest TV ratings at the Games.
Bokwang Phoenix Snowpark, the freeskiing venue for the 2018 Olympics. Photo by Mike Riddle
Beginning on Friday, February 16th at 5 p.m. PST, freeskiing will take centre stage once again, so in an effort to get you into the Olympic spirit, Forecast has prepared a rundown of the top Canadian freeskiers to watch for in South Korea…
Following his silver medal performance in Sochi, Mike Riddle will be returning to the Olympics for his second, and final, appearance. Originally from Sherwood Park, Alberta, Riddle, at 31 years old, is somewhat of an elder statesman in the sport, and often hailed as one of the nicest humans in skiing. Following an injury-plagued winter last year, look for Riddle to go out swinging in South Korea, as after the sun sets on the season, he plans to hang up his pipe skis, and plethora of technical tricks, in favour of skiing pow.
Speaking of comebacks: Simon d’Artois. After just missing the Olympic cut in 2014, and then winning X Games Aspen in 2015 in his second appearance at the event, d’Artois was forced to sit the next season out with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus. Now back on the slopes, the Whistler-based 25-year-old is stronger and hungrier than ever, and set to make it count this winter.
One of the most decorated members of the team, Noah Bowman, is coming off a successful season, highlighted by his second podium at X Games Aspen. As one of the most accomplished switch-skiing specialists in the history of halfpipe, he’s innovated a number of tricks that others are just beginning to emulate. And despite being in the mix for the past seven seasons, at 25 years young, the Whistler-based Bowman is just getting started.
Following in the footsteps of the late and great Sarah Burke, 25-year-old Cassie Sharpe of Comox, B.C., has been making her own mark on women’s halfpipe skiing, and pushing it to new heights. After winning X Games Oslo in 2016, Sharpe skyrocketed to superstardom, laying down tricks that others have yet to learn, and boosting some of the biggest airs since women began dropping in on the stunt ditch.
Rosalind Groenewoud, or Roz G, is one of the most successful female halfpipe skiers in history, with two X Games gold medals, and seven in total. After weathering the storm of being expected to podium in Sochi, but finishing seventh, the 28-year-old Calgary native, who currently calls Vancouver home, will be gunning for redemption at the Games, particularly since she plans on it being her last.
One of the most unique skiers under the sun, Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, or ABM, as he’s commonly known, was the lone male Canadian to compete in slopestyle in Sochi. With that experience, an exceptional amount of tricks, and a stellar season (which included third-place finishes at X Games Aspen and Dew Tour) under his belt, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 23-year-old Quebecer singing the national anthem in South Korea.
Another unassuming Quebecer, Alex Bellemare, is one of the more stylish slopestyle skiers in recent memory, and to the chagrin of his competitors, dangerously consistent. After taking third place in X Games Aspen in 2015, the 24-year-old went on to win the Olympic slopestyle test event in Pyeongchang in 2015 on a similar course to what’s being constructed for the Games, which gives him an edge going into the event.
Oakville, Ontario’s Evan McEachran is as enjoyable as he is exciting to watch. With silky smooth spinning abilities and a series of diverse and distinct grabs in his repertoire, his technicality has been turning heads for a few years now, but the 20-year-old is still looking for his elusive big win, which could very well come at the best time.
Somewhat of a newcomer to the scene, Campbell River, B.C.’s Teal Harle came out of nowhere in 2015 and has since been defying physics with freakish rotations that have left many scratching their heads. But his biggest breakout moment came last winter, when the 21-year-old stunned the stacked field at Freeski World Cup Corvatsch by taking the top spot.
The first freeskier to win Olympic gold, 23-year-old Dara Howell, is returning to the competition circuit full-time this winter after taking a break to digest her life-changing victory in Sochi. The pride and joy of Huntsville, Ontario, Howell will be looking to defend her and her homeland’s title in South Korea, and has the know-how and skills to make it two-for-two.
Lac-Beauport, Quebec’s Kim Lamarre, who brought home the bronze medal in Sochi, has been skiing professionally for the past 13 years, and alongside the recently retired Kaya Turski, is considered to be one of the early innovators of rail skiing. At 29, Lamarre may be the oldest member of the Canadian National Slopestyle Team, but with age comes experience, and it continues to show in the veteran’s cool, calm and collected style of skiing.
As one of the strongest female skiers on her feet in the business, Yuki Tsubota is as smooth as she is consistent. After scoring sixth place in Sochi, the 23-year-old, who grew up in Whistler and still calls that skiing wonderland home, will be looking to take things up at least three notches in South Korea, and with her expertise, the sky is certainly the limit.
On behalf of all of us at Forecast, and everyone in Canada, good luck to these athletes over the next couple of days. For a look at the schedule of Olympic freeskiing events, and when, where and how to watch them, click here.