Pyeongchang 2018 produced a record 29-medal haul for Canada. As the year comes to an end, Scott Stinson connects with some of the skiers, sliders and riders he covered in Korea for reflections on their Olympic experiences
Mikael Kingsbury, gold medallist, moguls
The most accomplished freestyle skier in history, all that was missing from The King’s resume was an Olympic gold.
“I knew I was going to be nervous. You can say, and try to say to yourself, ‘I’m not gonna think about it, I’m not gonna think about it,’ but you’re going to think about it. So I knew I was going to be nervous, but I was conscious that I was going to be nervous, and that was a good thing.”
“I had to build my confidence every run. You kind of get some pressure released from your shoulders every time you run. So I was skiing better and better and more confident. When I arrived for my last run I was still a little bit nervous, because you say, ‘This is the run. This is the run where I can win my gold.’ But at the same time you have skied that course twice before that day. So, yes I was nervous, but I had studied that course so much that I was confident.”
“After the Olympics, I remember I told myself that I could never be stressed with anything, ever. Because I had just experienced the most stress I ever had in my life.”
Cassie Sharpe, gold medallist, ski halfpipe
Sharpe has the best score in qualifying, and won the gold with her second run in the final. Her third run, with the gold clinched, was a victory lap.
“We trained so much with a sports psych, and she helped so much with understanding the grandness of it, and how big it would be relative to what we were used to. We didn’t do opening ceremonies because of that ‘boom, hit you in your face, it’s happening, this is the Olympics’ kind-of feeling. So we skipped that, and I think that was probably the best thing we could have done. We didn’t build it up too much in our own heads.”
“It’s so funny, I didn’t tell this story much during the Olympics, because I wasn’t sure if it was OK, but if you go back and watch my second run, in my landing of my right-cork-nine” — a trick with three and a half rotations — “I bobble. Like, I landed a little bit sideways and I had to cut back into the pipe to get to my next trick. And, in that two seconds that I had between that bobble and my next trick, I thought to myself, you just blew this run, this run’s done, there’s no coming back from that. And then I was like, well, this is the Olympics, you should finish the run. So I finished the run. And so, getting to the bottom, I felt like that score wasn’t going to be as good as my first one. It felt so wonky to me. It wasn’t a euphoric, I-just-won moment.”
“(The final run) was your ideal Olympic moment. I got to stand there, hug (coach Trennan Paynter), both of us with tears in our eyes, and then zone back in and go do another run. That victory lap is what everybody searches for. That’s what we want. It just feels so good.”
Brady Leman, gold medallist, ski cross
A fourth-place finisher in Sochi, Leman was almost out in the first heat but ended up making it all the way to the last run in the war of attrition that is ski cross.
“I remember pretty clearly being at the start and reminding myself that I had made back-to-back Olympic finals and nobody else had ever done that. And I tried to remind myself how much work I had put in in the front end over four years and just relax and enjoy it. Who gets to be in an Olympic final, let alone two? I tried to enjoy the moment, and not worry about the medal. Enjoy being nervous, and I was ready to be nervous.”
“I pulled out of the gate and saved my worst start, pretty much, for the final, and all of a sudden I was in fourth again in an Olympic final. Luckily I went by (teammate) Kevin (Drury) and the Russian guy before they tangled up. I knew I was going to get in front of both of them and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get in front of the Swiss athlete, but we went over the bigger feature and he was just a little bit short of where he wanted to land. I landed perfectly and it gave me that little bit of juice. It was one of those things where I took off of the jump and I wasn’t sure what I would have to do on the landing. But all of a sudden I landed, and did a turn and went off the next jump and I was in first. I had an ‘Oh, shit’ moment where all of a sudden you are in first. I was able to stay focused and was just talking to myself all the way down.
“At the finish, it was relief, joy, happiness, honestly like a huge wave of being so grateful. It’s a pretty amazing position to be in as an athlete when you have so many people dedicated their time and their passion to giving you the best chance that you can have. I started to think about that stuff pretty quickly.”
Sebastien Toutant, gold medallist, snowboard big air
Toutant had a podium-clinching run going at the slopestyle event but missed landing his last trick by inches.
“I fell on the last jump. It’s a little bit harder when you have a full run and then fall at the very end. I think I used that as fuel. At first I had disappointment, I was going back and forth with ‘why didn’t I land that last jump? It was there’. But then looking around me, I was like, dude, there are so many events where they only have one shot at it. I was, like, I have two chances at it. So I just used that energy into big air and started practising those tricks.”
“I don’t get tired of hearing that I’m an Olympic champion, but I’m still not used to it, you know? Kids will say they watched me ride, but even, like, old people you know? Someone will say they started snowboarding because of me, and they will ask for tips. That’s the stuff now that will kind of fuel me to keep going.”
Justin Kripps, gold medallist, two-man bobsled
Kripps and brakeman Alex Kopacz tied for the gold medal with a German team. Over four heats, five-plus kilometres of racing, and they were not separated by one hundredth of a second. Pretty close.
“The race has actually been played as an intro to some speaking engagements I’ve had and things like that. It makes me really proud to see how well we executed under that pressure and with everything on the line. But what makes me really happy is seeing the reactions of my teammates and coaches when we cross the finish line. Seeing how happy everyone was for us and celebrating the same as if they had won was a really special moment.”
“Also, seeing Jesse Lumsden be so happy and proud of me after he ended up not being chosen to race with me was a special moment, we have raced together on and off for 10 years and although he wasn’t with me in the sled when we won he’s been a big part of my success.
“Seeing Alex step it up at the start and find a hundredth of a second under that pressure and after three heats of racing made me really proud. We needed every hundredth of a second and he made it happen when it counted.”
“Relief wasn’t an emotion I thought I would feel from winning, but it was definitely a part of it. I always want more from myself, and I think I can be better, but when my career ends I can be satisfied that I achieved the highest goal I ever set, I performed at my best under the pressure of going into the Olympics with the top ranking. I’ll always know my career was a success because of what we did there.”
Alex Gough, bronze medal luge singles, silver medal luge team relay
A fourth-place finisher in Sochi, Gough was second after her final run but with two dominant Germans still to come. Two minutes later, she was back on the podium.
“The roller coaster of my singles race was definitely a bit crazy, but I think it’s almost more special because it was such a roller coaster. It really was that full gamut of emotions to go through. I probably could have done without the part where I thought I was going to be fourth again, but I think without that, there’s not as much elation with the third place coming in the final moments there.”
“I mean, it was like, ‘here we go again, I’m going to finish fourth, after everything.’ The two women who were left to go were basically neck and neck as the two most dominant women for my entire career, so yeah, the thought that she would come down slower than me was, in my head, pretty slim. It was a really long two minutes.”
“I think I felt like I made a real effort, knowing it would probably be the last year for me, to really take in all the little moments. The thing I remember the most was sitting in the handles at the relay and hearing the crowd chant for Canada at the finish. It was really special.”
Sam Edney, silver medal, luge team relay
Edney and Gough, plus the doubles team of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith, finished fourth in Sochi, briefly won bronze due to doping allegations against a Russian team, but lost it on appeal.
“We came down and we knew we had bronze. In that moment, it just felt like relief. We knew, as a group, we had done it. We had put everything we had into the past eight years, obviously we thought we would get it done in Sochi, but didn’t for, um, circumstances beyond our control, which is the political way I’ll say it, but it was just relief to have done it. I didn’t really realize that we had a chance to upgrade it to a silver or gold until the Austrians were about halfway through their run. I was just overwhelmed with that sense of joy and relief and excitement. It felt like everything came to together for us as a group at just the right moment. We needed it. That was a really cool moment.”
“I don’t want to think about how I would have felt if we had just missed this one by another tenth of a second. I remember feeling a pretty extreme amount of pressure knowing that Alex had just had the race of her life and the doubles are one of the fastest teams in the world, and I felt the pressure on my shoulders and I wanted to prove it to my team. My past 10th months would have been significantly different if I didn’t have that medal. It was medal or bust. I didn’t remind myself of that too much over the four years, but it really was.”
“We had taken a stance in support of clean sport, and we also said, this is our medal, don’t mess with us. This is ours.”