And that’s a wrap. The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi have come to a close and the 2014 Paralympics don’t begin until March 7, 2014. Which means Mike Atkinson legendary freeskier and a judge for the Sochi halfpipe and slopestyle ski events is on his way home. Atkinson is one of the strongest and most knowledgeable voices in competitive freeskiing and over the past couple weeks, he’s been The Insider’s exclusive source in Sochi. Here is his final report. Take it away Mikey!
Post-Games Report (and some more great pow!)
There was a bit of free time between the slopestyle and halfpipe events so I got to leave the venues at Rosa Katur and go watch the Canadian men’s hockey team play Finland. It was awesome—the stadium is super impressive and they have cheerleaders that get up and dance in the aisles between every puck drop. Every single line Canada put on the ice was littered with super stars and it was incredible to see that talent live. It was also great to see the boys bring home the gold medal on Sunday. (Although I’m sure many will agree the gold medal game for the Canadian Women was substantially more exciting. Great work girls, what a nail-biter.)
In the downtime I also checked out some snowboard cross. The course looked pretty gnarly right from the start and riders had to be on point to get out in front early and hopefully make it through all the whoops, jumps and turns. I saw reigning Olympic champ/Whistler rider Maelle Ricker but didn’t get a chance to say hi. It wasn’t her year this time out but after winning a gold in 2010 in her own country just minutes from her front door… it probably doesn’t ever get better than that. The first ever boardercross was held in Whistler in early 1990s so it’s awesome to see a local like Maelle out givin’er at the world’s biggest sporting event. And of course, big congrats to Dominique Maltais for her silver medal this year.
Overall, Canadian women have been on fire this year. Whistler’s Marielle Thompson took home the gold in ladies skicross later in the week and teammate Kelsey Serwa got the silver. The weather was in-and-out that day but I think inagurual Olympic ski cross champ (and Whistler kid) Ashleigh McIvor summed it up when she said, “Whistler has some of the best skiing on the planet and we get a lot of big storms. Growing up you learn to ski in all kinds of conditions, and all kinds of terrain.” Proving Ash’s point is the fact that Whistler High School is now 2-for-2 in Olympic Women’s ski cross. That’s pretty incredible.
Speaking of weather and terrain, the freeskiing at Rosa Katur was also pretty incredible. All the downtime for us judges was a bit of a mental endurance test but we compensated by ripping sick pow for a couple of days before heading back down for the halfpipe events. As was the case all season long, the qualification rounds were the toughest to judge. The top athletes are always able to stand out from the pack but the task of picking the top twelve is very difficult. Often the skier in the 8th spot could easily be compared to the skier in 15th so the scoring range needs to be given extra attention to ensure we get it right, which I feel we did.
The men’s pipe comp suffered a bit from a big blast of snow so conditions weren’t ideal and no one was really boosting as much as they were capable of. Canadian coaches (and Whistler legends) Trennan Paynter and Marc McDonnel did a smart thing by taking their athletes to the Euro X Games for a pre-Olympic training camp on a perfect pipe in Tignes, France. That worked out pretty well and it was great to see Canadian Mike Riddle nab the silver in Sochi.
Women’s Pipe and Sarah’s Legacy
I thought it was fitting to have the ladies halfpipe event so late in the Olympic schedule. The snow earlier in the week gave everything a nice winter wonderland feel and the crews were able to produce what was easily the best pipe of the games. So the music cranked up, the paint was sprayed up the vertical walls and the women of skiing dropped into a half pipe for the first time at an Olympic Games—the vision that Sarah Burke pushed for was about to be seen around the world.
Despite the Federation International du Ski banning athletes from wearing “Sarah” stickers there was clearly a lot of love in the air for her. I was down to my last sticker so I waited until all the judges were in the booth then locked the door and stuck it on the glass—the best view of the whole event.
Although the Canadian team didn’t get any medals this time out, women’s pipe at the 2014 Winter Games was definitely special. Emotions were running high and the smiles at the end of each run had an extra sparkle to them. It was great to watch, difficult to judge and an amazing thing to be a part of.
In 2000 I was involved in one of the earliest ski halfpipe tours, traveling around the US and Canada in Willie Nelson’s tour bus visiting every stunt ditch we could find and hosting jam competitions. To see the sport present itself on the world stage like this a decade and a half later was a very rewarding feeling. I think it’s also important to mention that the team at the Whistler Blackcomb Events and everyone involved with the World Ski & Snowboard Festival have been instrumental over the years in helping our sports progress and make it to this level.
The Olympics are not without their problems but if you can look past all that you’ll always find the true Olympic spirit in the athletes. To see their pride in having made it this far or the years of hard work in their smiles and tears… you can really feel their dedication and accomplishments with every cheer they let out and high five they share with their fellow competitors. That part of my Olympic experience has been awesome and something I will always remember.
Home Sweet Home
There have been many great songs written about home but none better than Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” so that’s what I’m listening to while delayed in the Frankfurt Airport. It’s been a quick and exciting three weeks at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, but I am stoked to be on my way back to Canada.
And one of the first things I plan to do is scoop my family up and head to Whistler for the next two months. I can’t wait to take my little girl for her first ride up the Whistler Gondola so she can experience the fresh air and great snow. I know that once those breaths of “Whistler Life” get inside of you that feeling never leaves. All you need to do is close your eyes and you can tap into that incredible vibe of Whistler and Canada. Stuck here in Frankfurt on a 36-hour delay I am really feeling those deep breaths and counting the days before I can spin a couple Peak to Creek laps, sample some Caesars at Dusty’s, high five my buddies at Sushi Village and just enjoy the best place in the world.
Whistler produced a lot of incredible Olympians for this winter games, and there will be more on display as the Paralympics fire up, but there are also all the other athletes and artists, photographers and DJs, chefs, waiters, snowcat drivers and other random Whistler locals who will never set foot on the world’s stage but who are all an integral part of the vibe that is Whistler. You can feel it when you are there and it’s something that stays with you forever. Home sweet home.
The winners of the first ever Olympic women’s halfpipe contest.