Canadian freestyle skier Dara Howell wins gold

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When she returns home to the Hidden Valley Highlands ski club in Huntsville, Ont., Dara Howell plans to hit the slopes with her 98-year-old grandfather.

Canada’s newest Olympic gold medallist won’t have the same luxury when it comes to another of the most important influences in her life, the late Canadian freestyler Sarah Burke.

Emotions were all over the mountain for the 19-year-old, who on Tuesday provided Canada another gold in an Olympic debut competition, the ladies ski slopestyle. Howell was joined on the podium by fellow Canadian Kim Lamarre of Quebec City, who also put in the ride of her young career to take the bronze.

The latest two-pack from the funky and always evolving umbrella of freestyle skiing gave Canada six medals from those events at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, which evidently is also the engine room of the country’s aspirations to lead the overall medal count in Sochi.

Howell became the fourth to take the Maple Leaf flag — this one draped around her shoulders — to the top of the podium these Games. And she can’t wait to get back home to ski once again with the grandfather, Ken Raven, who was such an influence in her early sporting life.

“My parents put me on skis at 18 months and I always got to ski with my grandfather,” Howell said. “Coming from a skiing family, my parents always wanted me to follow my dreams. He’s the reason that my family skis.

“I didn’t expect that would mean being an Olympic champion some day. This is the best moment of my entire life.”

Which brings us to Burke, who died 25 months ago following complications from a training accident in Utah. Beloved by her fellow freestylers, she was not only accomplished on the slopes but was a trailblazer in her sport.

If it weren’t for people like Burke, Howell might not have even had an Olympic podium to climb.

And without all those new podiums available thanks to the freestyle skiing disciplines, where would Canada’s impressive medal run to date be?

“With Sarah, I feel as though she’s been carrying me all week,” Lamarre said. “When I fell on my first run in finals then right before I dropped in (for the second run) I looked up and I’m like ‘Sarah, let’s do this together.’

“When I landed I said ‘Yeah, Sarah.’ I’m so stoked to do that.”

The Howell-Lamarre double on Tuesday was about more than just being stoked — it marked the third time in these Games that the Extreme Park yielded a double for Canada. The first was gold-silver finish, from the Dufour-Lapointe sisters in women’s moguls Saturday, was followed by a repeat in men’s moguls Monday by Alexandre Bilodeau and Mikael Kingsbury.

In the broader picture, the freestyle sports have been an incredible boon to Canada’s prospects in a Winter Games, including two already from new events the International Olympic Committee added for Sochi.

And in the latest victory, the Canadian team could have swept the podium if four-time Winter X Games champ Kaya Turski had been able to maintain her form. Instead the pre-event favourite, who had been battling illness for the past two weeks, fell on both of her qualifying runs and did not advance to the final.

“Canada all together is on fire, but definitely in freestyle,” Howell said. “Moguls has been around long enough and they know what they need to do and clearly they are getting the job done.

“Canada wants to develop a good slopestyle team and a good half-pipe team and they’ve believed in me all along.”

Howell’s win gave Canada gold in all three freestyle skiing events contested to that point in these Games and the six in total already sets a record for any country in freestyle skiing at a single Olympics.

Canadians have now captured 15 medals since freestyles became part of the Olympic movement, just one less than the leading Americans. The U.S. maintained that edge Tuesday when Devin Logan took the silver step of the podium alongside Howell and Lamarre.

And even though the event was making its Olympic debut, Howell’s winning run left diehard freestyle followers in awe.

“I think at this point in time it’s one of the most exceptional runs that’s ever been done by a girl,” Canadian team leader Peter Judge said. “Not only the execution of each of the tricks, but the overall cleanliness and flow of the tricks and the degree of difficulty. At almost every piece of it she excelled.

“It was pretty spectacular from all accounts. To do it in the Olympics, that’s even more special.”



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