Cassie Sharpe felt Sarah Burke's spirit during gold-medal performance
Late freestyle skier pushed for inclusion of halfpipe in Olympics
By Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Cassie Sharpe says Sarah Burke's spirit was everywhere at the Olympic women's halfpipe event.
The freestyle skier from Comox, B.C., captured gold at the Pyeongchang Olympics, and a day later paid tribute to the Canadian woman whose legacy lives large in the event.
"From when Sarah Burke was pushing the sport, and pushing amplitude and pushing for equal pay for women, the sport's just grown exponentially and we all wouldn't be here without Sarah," Sharpe said at a news conference Wednesday.
"But also I feel like [Tuesday] we all pushed each other. I think the level of riding was the highest it's been at any contest."
Burke tirelessly fought for halfpipe's inclusion at the Olympics, and for equal pay for female skiers, but died in 2012 after hitting her head on the superpipe in Park City, Utah at the age of 29. She would have been considered a gold medal favourite at the 2014 Sochi Games, but never lived to see the sport's debut.
"I definitely feel her spirit and feel her legacy," Sharpe said.
The skier was all smiles Wednesday as she met with the media, her brand new gold medal gleaming against her red Canadian team jacket. She said she slept with it on her pillow the previous night.
The 25-year-old met Burke just once at an event at Whistler, B.C., but has become good friends with Burke's husband Rory Bushfield, who four years ago scattered his wife's ashes over the mountain in Sochi.
"Bushy sent me a couple messages, and he posted before the event wishing me luck," Sharpe said with a smile. "Him and [her coach Trennon Paynter] had a phone call, I think they shed a couple of tears together, it's been really nice."
Bushfield watched the 2018 event from his house in Whistler.
"Sarah gave her life for that," he told The Associated Press. "It's cool to sit back and enjoy it. It's super emotional for me."
Sharpe winning gold was that much sweeter.
"I could not be more proud of a Canadian," he said.
A showcase for the world
Sharpe was so dominant Tuesday, she'd already won gold before taking her third and final run. She could have taken it easy, but decided she'd go out on a high, for Burke and the other female freestyle pioneers who helped put the event on the map.
"Even before the final, I was saying I wanted to showcase to the world what women could do in the halfpipe, and just to take a victory lap of straight airs was just not my style," Sharpe said. "So I wanted to keep pushing it and do a bigger run and up my own score."
Sharpe and Paynter both realized at the same time that she had secured gold, she said.
"He started tearing up and I started tearing up, and I said 'I can't hug you anymore because I'm going to cry, and I need to stay focused,"' she said. "I still went down and did that 10 at the bottom, because it's a show and you've got to give the people what they want."
French veteran also gets praise
Sharpe also praised French veteran Marie Martinod for the emergence of the sport. The 33-year-old mom came out of retirement in 2011 at the urging of Burke.
"It's been crazy," she said. "Marie Martinod has been in it for so long, she's been in it from when women were forerunners for the men, and didn't have their own competition."
Sharpe plans to continue pushing the sport.
"I've been talking about it for years, I would love to do a double in the pipe," she said. "I think that's the next step for me personally, I think some sort of double is going to be the next one for women in the pipe."