Women’s freestyle skiing: Free spirits and style queens strut their stuff
With slopestyle and halfpipe making their full Olympic debut at Sochi 2014, freestyle skiers were out in force on the Rosa Khutor slopes. From shared sibling joy in the moguls, to unexpected maternal joy in the aerials, the five women’s events produced some stunning performances and some iconic moments.
8 February 2014: Double moguls joy for Dufour-Lapointe sister act
Justine (19) and Chloé Dufour-Lapointe (22) took gold and silver in the women’s moguls, ahead of reigning champion Hannah Kearney (USA). In doing so the Canadians became the first sisters to occupy the top two steps of a Winter Olympic podium in half a century.
With a new elimination formula in place, the initial run in the final saw 20 skiers in action, with the top 12 going on to contest the second run, before the field was whittled down to six for the final run.
To add an extra element of excitement, times from the previous runs do not count, meaning the final six competitors went into the decisive run on an equal footing.
The Dufour-Lapointe family were denied the possibility of a unique one-two-three on the podium, when the oldest of the siblings, 24-year-old Maxime, wiped out on the second run, and ended up finishing 12th.
That left her two siblings to defend the family honour in the final six. Both delivered wonderfully controlled performances, managing to maintain their speed and produce clinically executed kickers. Justine scored 22.44 points and 74.80% to edge ahead of Chloé on 21.66, 72.20%.
The only skier capable of dislodging the Dufour-Lapointe sisters from the top two places was the world No 1 and reigning Olympic champion, Kearney, who was last to race. However, the American incurred a fault at the start of her run that cost her. She finished with a score of 21.49 points and 71.63%, and the bronze medal.
The newly crowned champion was absolutely thrilled: “It just totally rocks. It is just really amazing,” she beamed.
“Today I gave everything I had inside. I really gave it my all. I felt the pressure, but I tried to just put that away and I said, ‘You know what, I'm going to roar and people will see me and remember who the real Justine is’.”
Before stepping up to receive their medals, the two sisters held hands and then embraced.
“Holding the hand of Chloé meant that I wasn't alone,” explained Justine. “I was there and couldn't imagine that I would step up on the first step of the podium.
Meanwhile, Chloé Dufour-Lapointe had no regrets at having come home second behind her younger sibling.
“It meant a lot to be on the podium with my sister,” she said. “It happened before at the World Cup but here it's the Olympics, it's the big game, the big world, you have all the pressure of the world on you.”
11 February 2014: Howell extends Canada’s freestyle golden streak in Sochi
Dara Howell (CAN) produced an incredible score of 94.20 points on her first run to take gold in the inaugural women's Olympic slopestyle skiing competition.
No-one else could get close to the benchmark set by the 19-year-old, as Devin Logan (USA) took silver with 85.40. Kim Lamarre (CAN) came in just behind with a score of 85.00 to claim bronze.
Howell, who took silver at the 2014 Worlds, had been dominant throughout the competition, also posting the top score in the heats.
“I couldn’t have been happier after that first run. I will never forget the moment when I saw the score and heard the crowd go wild,” said the Canadian after her victory.
Overall, the teenager was the best to adapt to challenging conditions on the piste, as the competitors pushed themselves to the limits, endeavouring to impress the judges with their jumps and technical mastery of the obstacles the 600m Rosa Khutor course.
Having set such a high score with her first attempt, Howell was able to complete her second final run with a relaxed flourish, already assured of the gold medal.
Howell’s fellow Canadian, Kaya Turski the reigning world champion and pre-tournament favourite, failed to even make the final, finishing 19th after crashing on both her runs in the qualification heats.
14 February 2014: Super Tsuper ends 16-year medal wait with aerials gold
34-year old Belarusian freestyler Alla Tsuper, who was competing in her fifth Olympic Winter Games, shocked a top draw field to win the women's aerials title.
The Belarussian had never before won a medal in four previous attempts and arrived at Sochi 2014 ranked only 13th in the World Cup standings.
Yet the veteran was the only athlete to land perfectly in the final four shoot out and she edged out world champion Xu Mengtao of China into silver, with Australia's reigning Olympic champion Lydia Lassila taking bronze.
“At my first Games [Nagano 1998], I wasn’t nervous at all, But it got harder and harder every four years,” admitted the jubilant Belarusian.
“This year, I decided to treat Sochi as if it was my debut appearance at the Games. And that worked: I wasn’t nervous at all!”
Tsuper had only sneaked into the final by the skin of her teeth as the 12th, and last, qualifier by the most remarkably small margin of just 0.03 of a point over world number two Zhang Xin of China.
She had actually stopped competing for a couple of years following Vancouver 2010, where she finished fifth, and she admitted she started to believe she would never win an Olympic medal.
“I did feel like that for a moment in Vancouver, after I made it to the final and didn't get a medal.
“I thought that was it but then I had a break for two years, I had my daughter and then I was offered the chance to have another go. I started training and I did very well."
Her victory, allied with Lassila’s bronze meant that there were two mothers on the podium, since both athletes have had children since the last Olympics.
And Tsuper, believes that being older is an advantage, helping the two of them focus on their discipline.
"We know what we want and we just go for it," she said of herself and 32-year old Lassila
Despite losing her Olympic crown, Lassila did make history as she became the first female freestyler to successfully complete a full-double-full-full.
The Australian meanwhile was gracious in defeat: “I'm so happy for Alla, I really love this girl. She's a great competitor, she's been around for a long time… She jumped her heart out all this week, and tonight, and is so deserving of this medal.”
Tsuper's triumph ensured that by the end of Day 6, Belarusian athletes had already claimed three gold medals making it the most successful Winter Games in their country’s history.
20 February 2014: Brilliant Bowman arrows her way to halfpipe gold
US freestyle skier Maddie Bowman won the first ever women's Olympic skiing halfpipe gold, scoring an impressive 89.00 points with her second run to edge out France's Marie Martinod (85.40). Japan's Ayana Onozuka (83.20) took bronze.
The 20-year-old put down the two highest scoring runs of the final, with her second including two cleanly executed 900 spins and a backwards 700, combinations that none of her rivals could match.
“The way I've gotten here is taking it one day and one competition at a time and having absolutely as much fun as I could, and hey, it worked out,” said Bowman.
For Martinod, 29, the motivation to succeed was a little different. “I wanted to show my daughter that the way to achieve your goals is to focus on them,” she explained.
Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Onozuka, who kept world champion Virginie Faivre of Switzerland off the podium, was in a state of shock at winning bronze.
“I can't believe that I have got a third place. I was nervous the whole day and I couldn't concentrate, but I tried not to worry about it.
Bowman’s fellow American, Brita Sigourney, who finished sixth, paid tribute to the first women’s Olympic halfpipe champion:
“Hers was the most technical run out of any girl skiing. It's more technical than any run any girl has done all year, plus it's got amplitude and style, she's just got it all.”
21 February 2014: Thompson wins women’s ski cross to complete Canada’s freestyle gold rush in Sochi
“I'm really glad our freestyle team has been so successful here. It's so great that we can finish it off with a bang,” said Thompson, the 2011/12 World Cup champion, adding that it was even more special being able to step onto the podium with her friend and team-mate.
“I'm really, really excited, I'm so glad I get to share this moment with Kelsey up here,” she enthused.
“It's amazing for our country. I'm so proud I could bring it home to Canada and keep it in Canada,” added Thompson, who took the title won by her compatriot Ashleigh McIvor at Vancouver 2010.
For Serwa it was a remarkable turnaround, as she very nearly missed out on the final, after she had trailed at the back of her semi-final until the last jump.
Only a slip by reigning world champion Fanny Smith of Switzerland, who had been leading semi-final until losing her balance, allowed the Canadian to progress.
“In ski cross anything can happen. I never give up until I cross the finish line,” said Serwa.
Meanwhile, Holmlund won Sweden's first ever medal in ski cross and their first in freestyle skiing for 20 years.
“It's really special to get the first medal in ski cross for Sweden. It's a good beginning for us," said the 26-year old.
“Of course you want to win a medal, but the competition is really hard. It was harder and harder for every race. I still haven’t taken in the fact that I have a bronze medal,” she added.