Freestyle Skiing

Kate Pettersen - Monday Oct. 28, 2013 19:00 ET

Pressure mounting for Canadian ski halfpipe team

Athletes prepare for biggest World Cup season yet

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Canada's Mike Riddle has qualified to compete in ski halfpipe at the Olympic Games in Sochi. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

It may not be winter for most Canadians but our Olympic hopefuls are kicking it into high gear early. Whether it’s dryland training, on-snow training, or competitions, the Canadian Olympic team is preparing for a big year. 

In late August, a few of Canada’s national team athletes travelled to New Zealand to get a head start on the upcoming season. More than 100 freestyle skiers and snowboarders from around the world competed at the New Zealand Winter Games in Cardrona. Slopestyle skier Dara Howell, of Huntsville, Ont., started her season with an impressive silver medal performance on Aug. 25 — her 19th birthday.

Two of Canada’s ski halfpipe athletes also made the trip to New Zealand. Justin Dorey and Mike Riddle were there more for training and experience in a competitions setting; results were of secondary importance.

“The motivating factor for the trip was to give these athletes a bit of a contest simulation,” Canadian coach Trennon Paynter said. “Justin hasn’t competed since the beginning of last season so it was a good opportunity for him to train in a contest setting.”

Olympic Countdown

Paynter has a unique situation on his hands. Riddle and ski halfpipe teammate Rosalind Groenewoud have pre-qualified to compete in Sochi. The rest of the team will have to earn their spots during the 2013 World Cup season.

“The big difference for Groenewoud and Riddle this year, especially at the first few events, is they obviously have the leeway to take some chances,” Paynter said. “They will be able to start working on some harder skills without the consequences of taking risks. They can work on new tricks they want to do in Sochi knowing that if it doesn’t work out for them it’s not going to affect their Olympic chances.”

As for the other athletes, they need to approach the season with a different strategy. Their focus will be on making sure all of their tricks are landed perfectly when planning individual runs. Only once they qualify for Sochi will they be able to shift their focus to learning new tricks and increasing the level of difficulty of their run. 

Mental Games

In high-level competitive sport, the mental aspect also becomes a factor. Many of Canada’s elite athletes will be making their Olympic debut in Sochi, an event that could be the most nerve-wracking of their career. Paynter feels confident his athletes have the support they need to deal with the stress of competition, but acknowledges “every athlete is different.”

“We have great resources and sports psychologists for the athletes to talk to if they think they need to,” he said. “At every event there’s a large group of people who could be on the podium, but the ones that end up on there make it because of how they performed with the skills they have. That’s all mental.”

Putting the pressure to perform aside, it’s an even bigger year for the halfpipe team. Along with the slopestyle discipline, ski halfpipe will be making its Olympic debut in Sochi. “It’s the culmination of years and years of working to see our sport get included in the Olympics,” Paynter told CBC Sports. “This is the first time, not only for our athletes, but it’s the first time for our sport so it’s incredibly exciting for everyone involved.”

Paynter has his own Olympic experience to draw on: he represented Australia at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. For him, competing in the Olympics was a dream come true. “There’s nothing that even comes close (to the Olympics) in terms of a competitive experience. I’m so happy for my team that I’ve been with for so long that they’re going to get to have that. 

“To see our sport debut in front of the world on the Olympic stage is awesome.”

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