x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Howell offers tribute to fallen trailblazer Burke after taking slopestyle skiing gold

Canadian on skiiers' minds after her work to help found discipline

Dara Howell of Canada competes in the women's freestyle skiing slopestyle final at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, yesterday. Tobias Hase / EPA
Dara Howell of Canada competes in the women's freestyle skiing slopestyle final at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, yesterday. Tobias Hase / EPA

Dara Howell dedicated her gold medal in the women’s slopestyle skiing on Tuesday to the memory of Sarah Burke, the woman credited as the pioneer of women’s freestyle skiing.

“I said the other day that I really hope a Canadian brings home a gold medal and it will be for Sarah,” Howell said of becoming the inaugural gold medallist in the event.

“This medal is definitely for Sarah. She pushed the sport.”

Burke, a four-time gold medallist at the Winter X Games, died from injuries sustained while training in Utah in 2012.

A charismatic and accomplished performer and one of the key players in expanding freestyle skiing’s role in the Olympics, Burke served as a role model to a large swath of the Canadian freestyle team, including Howell, 19, who found herself atop the podium on Tuesday.

“She always wanted to see the progression,” Howell said. “To see the girls throwing what the guys were throwing ... today I feel like that’s what I did.”

Howell unleashed a switch-900 – an off-axis spin that includes two rotations – during a run that finished with a score of 94.20, trouncing the rest of the field on a warm and sometimes frightening day.

Devin Logan of the United States took silver. Kim Lamarre earned bronze to give Canada seven medals in four days of snowboarding and freestyle skiing, including three events in which they claimed two of the three spots on the podium.

Howell plans to celebrate her gold-medal success with a trip back to Canada to ski with her 99-year-old grandfather, who still finds a way to get out on the mountain near her hometown of Huntsville, Ontario, every day. The two chatted briefly after her victory, a conversation that included a lot of screaming, if not a lot of detail about what Howell had just done.

“He tries his best to understand it,” she said. “I don’t think he’s got it yet.”

The same could be said for a sport that looked more than a little unpolished during its Olympic debut.

Nearly half of the 44 qualifying runs over the series of rails, jumps – and one oversized Russian nesting doll – ended with a skier face down in the snow or quitting out of self-preservation.

“On days like this, normally we wouldn’t be trying to do our gnarliest tricks because we’re getting stuck,” said American Keri Herman, who came in as a medal contender, but finished 10th.

“But right now, we’re at [the Olympics], so here we go, let’s do it.”

sports@thenational.ae