| AspenTimes.com

Despite not winning a medal, Rosie Brennan finds success in Beijing

Rosie Brennan competes during the women's 30-kilometer mass start freestyle cross-country skiing competition at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 20 in China. Brennan placed sixth in the event.
Aaron Favila/AP

PARK CITY, Utah — Skiing alone in the woods is therapeutic for Park City cross-country skier Rosie Brennan.

After a busy Winter Olympics where she narrowly missed out on winning a medal multiple times, the solitude was where she could begin to process her experience before the World Cup kicked back into gear.

There aren’t feelings of disappointment, but there are still plenty of emotions to work through.

“It’s an event that you wait a long time for, and there’s six races that I did, so that’s six wildly different experiences that I had over the course of this month,” she said. “It’ll take some time, but there were certainly some things I was really excited about and some things that I wish had gone differently. And I don’t know, I think that’s maybe just the case for life — nothing’s all good or all bad.”

On the positive side, Brennan’s trip to Beijing went much more smoothly than her appearance in South Korea in the 2018 Games. Brennan only raced in one event in those Olympics: the women’s skiathlon. She wasn’t feeling well, and it showed on the course. Brennan finished 58th out of the 60 skiers who finished.

She was diagnosed with mononucleosis following the Olympics and was later dropped from the U.S. national team. Brennan then worked her way back onto the national team, won her first World Cup event in December 2020 and competed in all six cross-country events in Beijing, which was a huge accomplishment for her by itself.

“To start there four years ago and end up here, that’s bigger picture, and that’s something that I’m immensely proud of,” she said. “Four years is a long time, but it also isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of life. So to turn things around the way I did is something that I’m maybe most proud of in my career.”

Brennan finished in the top six in four of the events, but her best result was a fourth-place finish. While not coming away with a medal was disappointing, she is doing her best to focus on what she could have controlled. She noted that there are lots of variables in every race and that luck plays a role. For example, she said that the heavy winds during the 30-kilometer event made it resemble more of a bike race tactically.

“I felt that I was as prepared as I could have been, and I do think that I was in some of the best shape of my life, if not the best shape of my life,” she said. “There’s not much else I could have done there. With everything I had going for me at the time, I did all I could. And of course it’s like, yeah, it’s a bummer to not have a medal, but when you look at the bigger picture, I think I’m very satisfied with everything I accomplished.”

Like any Olympian, Brennan grew up dreaming of winning a medal, and she had the opportunity to see the Olympics in-person growing up in Park City. She’s 33 now and would be 37 for the Olympics in 2026 and doesn’t know what her long-term plans are yet.

Regardless of the future, she found victories in Beijing beyond winning a medal.

“I finally was in a place where that dream became a goal that was realistic, and I think that’s a really unique thing to experience. I think that’s not something that everyone experiences in their lives,” she said. “That aspect of it, I think, is really cool, that’s why I ski race and that’s why I do this and keep trying because it’s a neat experience to turn something from a dream into a goal into something that’s potentially possible.”

Still, it might take some more skiing in the woods alone to sort everything out.

“Of course, whenever you miss a goal, there’s mixed emotions with it,” she added. “But on the flip side, it would be worse to never have that as a goal, I guess is how I live my life a little bit.”

brendan@parkrecord.com

Gabel goes for gold: Snowboarder heads to Paralympic Games for the third time

Men's snowboard cross SB-LL2 event silver medalist Keith Gabel reacts during a post-race ceremony on March 12, 2018, at the Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Ng Han Guan/AP

Heading into his third Paralympic Games, Keith Gabel’s ambitions are far more golden than they’ve ever been. The Roaring Fork Valley snowboarder already owns a pair of medals — silver from 2018, bronze from 2014 — in boardercross, and needs just one more to round out his collection.

“Everything I’ve worked for to this point is specifically for these upcoming moments,” Gabel said in a recent interview with The Aspen Times prior to leaving for China. “I’m ready to complete the set. That’s bottom line for me. I’m going for gold 100% and super stoked to just have the opportunity to chase it one more time.”

At 37, Gabel is a veteran member of Team USA’s roster for the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, which get underway Friday with the opening ceremony in Beijing. He’s been at the forefront of the sport since it made its Paralympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games, when Gabel finished third in his class behind fellow Americans Michael Shea (silver) and Evan Strong (gold).

Eight years ago in Russia, Gabel was like the rest of the riders in that he was simply happy to be there, excited to have the sport included. Four years ago in South Korea, when Gabel won silver behind Finland’s Matti Suur-Hamari, he said his goal had been nothing more than to make it to the gold-medal round, which he did.

Now, with Father Time lightly tapping on the dials of his watch, Gabel understands his opportunities to race at this level will soon run dry and he’s not taking anything for granted.

“I wasn’t 100% sure I would go for a third, and the stars aligned, and I was able to continue to compete. I’ve been really fortunate to make this a career and have the backing that I’ve had and the support from my family and loved ones,” Gabel said. “Just being in it for as long as I have, I’ve seen every athlete that’s in the sport start their career and grow into what they are today, on snow and off snow. It’s a tremendous honor for me to be able to be out there and be with them for at least one more.”

Gabel was raised in Ogden, Utah, part of the Salt Lake City metro area, and found his way to the Roaring Fork Valley about 10 years ago with the specific intent of training with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. Like so many before him, the move wasn’t meant to be permanent, but the draw of the area, especially in the summer, led to Gabel establishing firm roots around Aspen. On top of his snowboarding career, Gabel now has a 2-year-old child and he and his wife, Heather Short, opened a coffee shop last summer in El Jebel called Coffee Connections, or CoCos for short.

But his next career grinding beans isn’t quite ready to go full send, as Gabel has more work to be done in snowboarding. It’s a sport he got into back in his teens, before a 2005 industrial accident crushed his left foot, leading to his left leg being amputated just below the knee. Only three months later he was back on his snowboard, but it would still be years before the sport evolved into a career.

Keith Gabel competes in his second run in the snowboard banked slalom event on Friday, March 16, 2018 at Jeongseon Alpine Center at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games.
Mark Reis/U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding

“I’m absolutely blessed to have had that happen when I did. Technology was ramping up due to the war, so the government was spending a lot of money on technology. I think that’s probably one of the bigger factors that played in me getting back on snow so quick,” Gabel said. “That probably set the tone for where I’m at today. I realized at that point the sky is kind of the limit. I never knew I would have the opportunities I have now and never in my wildest dreams would have dreamt of being a professional snowboarder.”

Earlier in his career, and especially prior to the pandemic, Gabel might have spent up to 10 months on snow each year, traveling the world for competition and training. Anymore, he mostly does his own thing and spends far less time on snowboard cross-specific training and more time simply chasing powder. His true passion is in the backcountry, and he believes the skills required to ride out there translate well to the boardercross course.

That said, Aspen Skiing Co. has built a world-class course in Snowmass this winter, using the walls of what is typically the superpipe to provide local athletes with some of the best training ground on the continent.

Officially an AVSC alumnus, Gabel still keeps close ties with the club and enjoys connecting with the younger generation whenever possible.

Keith Gabel competes on his second run in the snowboard banked slalom event on Friday, March 16, 2018, at Jeongseon Alpine Center at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games.
Mark Reis/U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding

“They are super kind and give me options for the gym there or when the kids are out ripping gates or something like that, I might get a text message from the director that if I’m in town to see if I want to come over,” Gabel said. “If it’s dumped a bunch of snow, I’m going to ride pow. There is something to be said for your mental stability and your mental training when you are just out there having fun and releasing and doing what you truly enjoy.”

With his 40s fast approaching, Gabel found plenty of inspiration watching the Winter Olympics last month. One of Team USA’s top storylines was that of veteran riders Lindsey Jacobellis, 36, and Nick Baumgartner, 40, pairing to win gold in mixed snowboard cross. Jacobellis also won individual gold in Beijing in what was her fifth Olympic appearance.

The Alpine snowboarding world being as small as it is, Gabel knows both pretty well. Baumgartner’s brother, Josh, actually lives here in the midvalley. A native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Nick Baumgartner mentioned in various Olympic interviews he hopes to join his brother in Colorado after his snowboarding career is over.

“I was so stoked. I was literally screaming at my TV when Lindsey was coming down,” Gabel recalled of the two-rider Olympic mixed team race, in which the men race first, followed by the women. “It’s definitely inspiring to know that the old dog’s still got it. You can’t ever count the old ones out. We got a lot of tricks up our sleeves, and that’s kind of the name of the game. It’s not always about who is willing to charge the hardest and stuff — you got to be tactically sound in every aspect of the sport. I think that’s where that veteran experience really comes into play.”

Keith Gabel competes in his first run in the snowboard banked slalom event on Friday, March 16, 2018, at Jeongseon Alpine Center at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games.
Mark Reis/U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding

Gabel competes in the LL2 classification at the Paralympics — a lower-limb division for those with slightly less limitation than the LL1 athletes — and will race in both boardercross (qualifying is Sunday, finals on Monday) and banked slalom (finals are March 12) in China. He finished sixth in banked slalom at the 2018 Paralympics.

NBC will televise much of this year’s Paralympics on its various channels and apps, as it did for last month’s Olympics.

A passionate racer, Gabel is equally as proud of his work off the course. He’s on various international committees, including through World Para Snowboard, and speaks on behalf of many of the sport’s athletes. He played his part in getting snowboarding to the 2014 Paralympics and wants to make sure it sticks around long after his career is over.

“We had doubts that we would ever get it into the Paralympics. And now here we are over a decade later and I get to go for my third,” Gabel said. “It’s time consuming, but it’s kind of a passion project, if nothing else. I want to see Para snowsports and see Para snowboarding around long, long after I’m gone. I feel like this is a good way to help continue the journey for other athletes.”

But Gabel’s own journey as an athlete isn’t over quite yet. He recalled being asked by reporters after his races in Pyeongchang four years ago — and he meant quite literally in the moments directly after he had crossed the finish line — about possibly retiring, and he didn’t have a good answer then.

A Russian honor guard soldier salutes as silver medalist Michael Shea, left, gold medalist Evan Strong, center, and bronze medalist Keith Gabel listen to the U.S. national anthem during a medal ceremony at the 2014 Winter Paralympic on Friday, March 14, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Heading into Beijing, not much has changed in that regard. Gabel is like most of the other athletes in that he’s put so much into this year’s Paralympics, there hasn’t been time to dwell on what comes after.

Could he head into retirement after the snow melts this spring? Certainly.

Then again, as Baumgartner proved, age is just a number, and the 2026 Paralympics in Italy aren’t that far away.

Before any golden sunsets, however, Gabel’s going for a less fleeting type of gold. That is, the eternal glory type that comes with winning at the Paralympics.

“It’s always floating around. It’s hard to think past the Games, because in a quad, that’s your main goal, is to make it to those days and then everything after that is just kind of on the backburner,” Gabel said of retirement. “In Beijing, my goal is gold. I want the gold. I’m hungry, I’m ready for it, I’ve trained my butt off. This is 12 years in the making for me.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Beijing’s Winter Olympics close, ending safe but odd global moment

The United States arrives at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

BEIJING — A pile of figure-skating rubble created by Russian misbehavior. A new Chinese champion — from California. An ace American skier who faltered and went home empty-handed. The end of the Olympic line for the world’s most renowned snowboarder. All inside an anti-COVID “closed loop” enforced by China’s authoritarian government.

The terrarium of a Winter Games that has been Beijing 2022 came to its end Sunday, capping an unprecedented Asian Olympic trifecta and sending the planet’s most global sporting event off to the West for the foreseeable future, with no chance of returning to this corner of the world until at least 2030.

It was weird. It was messy and, at the same time, somehow sterile. It was controlled and calibrated in ways only Xi Jinping’s China could pull off. And it was sequestered in a “bubble” that kept participants and the city around them — and, by extension, the sporadically watching world — at arm’s length.

On Sunday night, Xi and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach stood together as Beijing handed off to Milan-Cortina, site of the 2026 Winter Games. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” kicked off a notably Western-flavored show with Chinese characteristics as dancers with tiny, fiery snowflakes glided across the stadium in a ceremony that, like the opening, was headed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

Unlike the first pandemic Olympics in Tokyo last summer, which featured all but empty seats at the opening and closing, a modest but energetic crowd populated the seats of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium. It felt somewhat incongruous — a show bursting with color and energy and enthusiasm and even joy, the very things that couldn’t assert themselves inside China’s COVID bubble.

“We welcome China as a winter sport country,” Bach said, closing the Games. He called their organization “extraordinary” and credited the Chinese and their organizing committee for serving them up “in such an excellent way and a safe way.”

By many mechanical measures, these Games were a success. They were, in fact, quite safe — albeit in the carefully modulated, dress-up-for-company way that authoritarian governments always do best. The local volunteers, as is usually the case, were delightful, helpful and engaging, and they received high-profile accolades at the closing.

There was snow — most of it fake, some of it real. The venues — many of them, like the Bird’s Nest and the Aquatic Center, harvested from the 2008 edition of the Beijing Olympics — performed to expectations. One new locale, Big Air Shougang, carved from a repurposed steel mill, was an appealingly edgy mashup of winter wonderland and rust-belt industrial landscape.

TV ratings were down, but streaming viewership was up: By Saturday, NBC had streamed 3.5 billion minutes from Beijing, compared to 2.2 billion in South Korea in 2018.

There were no major unexpected logistical problems, only the ones created deliberately to stem the spread of COVID in the country where the coronavirus first emerged more than two years ago.

And stemmed it seemed to be. As of Saturday, the segregated system that effectively turned Beijing into two cities — one sequestered, one proceeding very much as normal — had produced only 463 positive tests among thousands of visitors entering the bubble since Jan. 23. Not surprisingly, the state-controlled media loved this.

“The success in insulating the event from the virus and keeping disruption to sports events to a minimum also reflected the effectiveness and flexibility of China’s overall zero-COVID policies,” the pro-government Global Times newspaper said, citing epidemiologists who say “the COVID-19 prevention experience accumulated from this Olympics can also inspire Chinese cities to adjust their policies.”

Look deeper, though, and a different story emerges about these Games.

Internationally, many critiqued them as the “authoritarian Olympics” and denounced the IOC for holding them in concert with a government accused of gross human rights violations against ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans in its far west and harsh policies against Hong Kong democracy activists off its southeastern coast. Several Western governments boycotted by not sending any official delegations, though they sent athletes.

For its part, China denied such allegations, as it typically does, and featured a Uyghur as part of its slate of Olympic torch-carriers for the opening ceremony Feb. 4.

And then, of course, there were the Russians. And doping. Again.

The 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for using a banned heart medication. The result wasn’t announced by anti-doping officials until after she’d won gold as part of the team competition, even though the sample was taken weeks earlier.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared her to compete in the individual discipline, ruling that as a minor she had protected status. But Valieva, although heavily favored to win, fell several times during her free skate routine, landing her fourth place and prompting a cold reception from her embattled coach, Eteri Tutberidze.

“Rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance,” Bach said the next day, proclaiming his outrage.

Valieva’s Russian teammates took gold and silver, but on a night of drama, even the winners were in tears. The affair produced one possible legacy for Beijing: Valieva’s ordeal has inspired talk of raising the minimum age for Olympic skaters from 15 to 17 or 18.

American skier Mikaela Shiffrin also came to Beijing with high expectations, only to see them dashed when she failed to finish three races. She left without any medal at all. In an image to remember, the TV cameras captured Shiffrin sitting dejectedly on the snow, head in hands, for several minutes.

The 2022 Games were controversial from the moment the IOC awarded them to Beijing, the frequently snowless capital of a country without much of a winter sports tradition. Almaty, Kazakhstan, was the only other city in play after four other bids were withdrawn due to lack of local support or high cost.

Geopolitical tensions also shadowed these Games, with Russia’s buildup of troops along its border with Ukraine spurring fears of war in Europe even as the “Olympic Truce” supposedly kicked in. In the closing, Bach said athletes “embraced each other even if your countries are divided by conflict,” an apparent reference to a hug captured on camera between a Russian athlete and a Ukrainian one.

China swelled with pride, and its social media swelled with comments, as Eileen Gu, an America-born freestyle skier who chose to compete for China, her mother’s native country, became an international superstar. Her three medals — two gold, one silver — set a new record for her sport, and adulation for Gu literally broke the Chinese internet at one point, briefly crashing the servers of Sina Weibo, the massive Twitter-like network.

And Chinese snowboarder Su Yiming, a former child actor, won over the home crowd with a dominant gold medal big air performance.

Other moments to remember from Beijing 2022:

— With a nearly perfect free skate and a record-setting short program, the 22-year-old figure skater Nathan Chen became the first American gold medalist in his sport since 2010.

— Snowboarding’s best known rider, Shaun White, called it a career after finishing fourth in the halfpipe in his fifth Olympics, passing the torch to athletes like Su and the halfpipe gold medalist, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano.

— American boarder and social media figure Chloe Kim won the gold in halfpipe for the second time, adding to her 2018 medal from Pyeongchang.

— Norway, a country whose total population of 5 million is less than one half of one percent of the host country’s, led the medal count, as it often does. Russia was second, followed by Germany, Canada and the United States.

These third straight Games in Asia, after Pyeongchang in 2018 and the delayed Tokyo Summer Games six months ago, were also the second pandemic Games. And the 16,000 athletes and other international visitors who spent the entire time segregated from the host city behind tall chain-link fences couldn’t help but see the countless signs trumpeting unremitting iterations of the Olympic slogan: “Together for a Shared Future.”

But for much of these austere and distant Games, wintry not only in their weather but in their tenor itself, a post-pandemic shared future — the hug-and-harmony variety that the Olympics builds its entire multinational brand around — seemed all but out of reach.

Canada, left, and France arrive at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Gao Tingyu and Xu Mengtao, of China, arrive at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
The Olympic flame burns in the center of the snowflake-shaped cauldron during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Performers participate at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States leaves the finish area after racing in a semifinal of the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Fireworks explode over the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
The Olympic flame is extinguished during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
The Olympic Rings are illuminated at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Dancers perform during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Teams arrive during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa waves to the crowd before leaving the ice at the end of the women's curling final match between Japan and Britain at the Beijing Winter Olympics Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
FILE - Kamila Valieva, of the Russian Olympic Committee, reacts after competing in the women's free skate program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
United States' Shaun White waves in the halfpipe course after the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Fireworks light up the sky over Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
President of China Xi Jinping waves during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Flag bearers march into the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Athletes from Japan wave during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Fireworks light up the sky over Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Volunteers are honored during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach speaks during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Members of team United States pose during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Athletes from China march into the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Johaug wins third Olympic gold in Beijing; Diggins gets historic silver for US

Jessie Diggins reacts after crossing the finish line during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Norwegian great Therese Johaug won her third gold medal of the Beijing Olympics on Sunday and Jessie Diggins took silver for the best result by an American in an individual cross-country skiing event since 1976.

Fighting fierce winds and brutal temperatures, Johaug went out front early in the 30-kilometer mass start race and held on to win in 1 hour, 24 minutes, 54 seconds. Johaug also won the skiathlon — the first gold medal of the Olympics — and the 10-kilometer classic race.

“I’m born in a small place where there’s a lot of wind and a lot of cold temperatures in the region, so this was nothing for me,” Johaug said.

Diggins, also skiing alone for much of the race, kept a steady pace behind the Norwegian as gusts whipped across the tracks and battered the skiers, many with tape on their faces to protect from the cold. She dropped to the ground after crossing the finish line, 1:43.3 behind Johaug.

“Every last drop of energy went into that race,” Diggins said. “The last two laps, my legs were cramping. We had amazing cheering out there, and I thought, I just can’t give up, I have to put everything I had into the snow today and finish with nothing left. I did try really, really hard.”

Diggins said she was sick with food poisoning the day before, spending Saturday in bed and force-feeding herself.

“I was feeling pretty bad 24 hours ago,” the American said. “I was talking to my parents and my mom said, ‘Don’t decide how you feel right now. Just go out there and ski because you love to race.’ And she was right.

“That might have been the best race of my entire life, I’m not going to lie,” Diggins said. “It was also maybe the hardest race of my whole life.”

Kerttu Niskanen of Finland led a chase group to the line for bronze, 2:33.3 behind.

“I told myself, I’ve come fourth so many (expletive) times, I’m not going to come fourth again,” Niskanen said. “It wasn’t so bad during the race. It’s actually much worse standing here doing media interviews.”

Diggins made cross-country skiing history for the United States at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics when she and Kikkan Randall won the team sprint — the country’s first gold medal in the sport. Diggins set another U.S. Olympic record at the Beijing Games by being the first woman to win an individual medal when she took bronze in the sprint.

The silver matched the best result ever by an American in an individual cross-country skiing event. Bill Koch won silver in the men’s 30-kilometer race at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics.

Temperatures hovered around minus 14 degrees C (6.8 degrees F) on Sunday but the wind chill made it much colder. The women skied four laps on a 7.5-kilometer (4.6-mile) course.

Johaug pushed the pace on the first lap, creating a long string of single skiers snaking around the corners and downhills.

At the first check point at 2.9 kilometers, Johaug, Diggins, Ebba Andersson of Sweden and Delphine Claudel of France created a gap. Rosie Brennan, Krista Parmakoski and Niskanen were about seven seconds behind, but the gap grew to 28 seconds by the end of the first lap.

Natalia Nepryaeva, the World Cup leader, fell behind and dropped out of the race before the end of the first lap. At the 8.8-kilometer mark, Claudel dropped off the pace.

Johaug pulled away from the leaders at about 10 kilometers, with Diggins and then Andersson chasing. The Norwegian maintained her trademark fast tempo on the climbs, but Diggins stayed close, trailing by about 23 seconds.

At the halfway point, Johaug led Diggins by 27 seconds with Andersson 1:15 behind.

With one lap to go and Johaug and Diggins out front, the chase group caught Andersson and Niskanen pulled ahead in a sprint.

Brennan said training in the cold helped her hang on for sixth place, 2:38.7 behind.

“Luckily, I’ve spent the last decade training in Alaska,” the American said. “We’ve had some pretty miserable days training, so I tried to think about those and remind myself that I’m tough enough to handle it all and that everyone’s out there facing the same conditions. Those that put their head down can make it happen.”

Skiers compete in blustery conditions during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Jessie Diggins competes during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Sweden's Ebba Andersson, center, competes during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Wind blows snow as skiers compete during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Wind blows snow as skiers compete during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Norway's Therese Johaug celebrates after crossing the finish during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Norway's Therese Johaug celebrates as she nears the finish during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Ferreira’s Olympic bronze among the many storylines from halfpipe skiing

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira shows off his bronze medal after the men's halfpipe skiing finals at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Francisco Seco/AP

A world away from Beijing, Colorado’s top high school skiers gathered on Friday night at Middle Park High School in Granby for the CHSAA state championships awards ceremony. Slowing the procession down was the Olympic battle in men’s halfpipe skiing that featured both Alex Ferreira of Aspen and Winter Park’s Birk Irving.

“They were doing the awards and they had a split screen going on, because they had one side showing all the awards, but the other side was showing a live superpipe stream, because of their guy, Birk,” Aspen High School Nordic ski coach Travis Moore said Saturday. “And they kept pausing the awards ceremony for Birk to ski, but then at the end, our Aspen guy beat him.”

It was the final freeskiing event of the Beijing Winter Olympics, won by New Zealand’s Nico Porteous with Nevada’s David Wise finishing second. But taking the bronze was Ferreira, who held onto that final podium spot over Canada’s Noah Bowman and Irving, who was fifth.

“Didn’t quite go my way,” Irving told reporters after the contest from Zhangjiakou. “It was really difficult with the wind, finding little windows of good skiing opportunities, I guess. Couldn’t quite find the speed, but hyped to put something down and participate in my first Olympics.”

Here are some other nuggets to take away from the Olympic men’s halfpipe skiing final:

Ferreira overcomes for another Olympic podium

Ferreira, the 27-year-old native of Aspen, won silver at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, his first time competing at the Olympics. But over the next few years he developed serious neck pain due to a pair of pinched nerves he let go untreated for too long, resulting in necessary surgery only nine months ago.

After one of the worst seasons of his career last winter — by his standards, at least — Ferreira found renewed life with a clean bill of health, and it’s shown in his skiing this season. He won the season-opening Copper Mountain Grand Prix and then won Dew Tour for the third time, both in back-to-back weeks in December, to secure himself a spot on the plane to China.

He did sit out X Games Aspen, something he admitted was a tough decision, in order to rest for the Olympics, a move that paid off when he was presented with the bronze medal for placing third.

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira is lifted by his coach, Elana Chase, after winning bronze in men's halfpipe skiing at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

“I’m ecstatic,” Ferreira told reporters after finals. “Just to be on the podium is unbelievable. It was such a difficult contest with some really tough conditions, so to be able to share the podium with my teammate, David Wise, and a friend, Nico Porteous, is a true joy.”

Dealing with Mother Nature

The weather didn’t do the athletes any favors on Saturday at Genting Snow Park. A steady breeze that included reported gusts of up to 40 mph — on top of a wind chill that dipped to minus 26 degrees Fahrenheit — made it a challenging contest.

“I had so much prepared,” Wise said of his planned Olympic runs. “It’s like I cooked a meal for everybody, and I didn’t get to share it.”

Ferreira said his runs were about 85% of what he was capable of because of the wind. The final saw a large majority of the athletes crash, and all three of the podium runs were put down in the first of the three rounds.

Porteous was among those to take quite the dinger on his final run with only Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck still to go. Blunck also took a hard hit on his final run, but seemed to be doing well after the contest.

“Bit of a stupid decision to do that,” Porteous said of his final trick, a failed 1440 attempt, which drew blood on his right ear. “But it’s the Olympics. So you’ve got to leave everything out there.”

While it looked like the wind was mostly impacting the skiers when they rose above the lip of the halfpipe, Irving said the transitions were equally as difficult.

From left, David Wise, Nico Porteous and Alex Ferreira stand after receiving their medals from the men's halfpipe skiing finals during the medal ceremony at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

“It was just swirling around and hitting both sides of the pipe, so you kind of get it to the chest coming through,” he said. “It would just slow you down going into the left wall or the right wall, really whichever one you were going into. It happens. It’s part of it. We don’t do indoor sports.”

A familiar podium

The medalists from the Beijing Olympics were the same three who podiumed in South Korea four years ago, although in a different order. Wise had won gold in both 2014 and 2018 — halfpipe skiing only made its Olympic debut in those 2014 Sochi Games — so this year’s silver officially ended his reign atop the sport. Still, that’s three medals in three Olympics for the 31-year-old from Reno, who seems unlikely to contend for a spot at the 2026 Olympics in Italy but also never brought up the idea of retiring in the lead-up to Beijing.

Porteous won Olympic bronze in 2018 as a mere 16-year-old and since then has taken over the sport. He heads into the offseason as the Olympic champion, world champion and the two-time reigning X Games Aspen champion. If there was any doubt about who the best halfpipe skier in the world is, the Kiwi clearly put that discussion to rest in China.

“It feels unreal. We’re a bunch of workhorses, I guess,” Ferreira said with a laugh about why that same trio found the Olympic podium together again. “The hardest workers get up on the podium and Dave’s a great friend of mine. He’s a good person. Nico’s a good friend of mine. He inspires me. They both do every day.”

From left, David Wise, Nico Porteous and Alex Ferreira celebrate at the bottom of the halfpipe during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe skiing final at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

Ferreira said Porteous, who became the first to land back-to-back 1620s at X Games Aspen 2021, was his inspiration for also learning the double cork 1620, which requires four-and-a-half rotations on top of the two inversions, or corks. Ferreira has landed the trick a few times in competition now, although not on back-to-back hits like Porteous. He successfully put down the 1620 in the Olympic finals on Saturday, but missed grabs kept him from pushing Wise and Porteous for a higher spot on the podium.

“Being on the podium in such tough conditions, I honestly feel like I got the gold,” Ferreira said. “The wind was definitely a factor. There’s tough conditions and sometimes the universe has other plans for you and you have to adapt as we do. I did my best and ended on the podium.”

Fun with numbers

Since men’s halfpipe skiing made its debut at the Olympics in 2014, nine medals have been handed out. Wise and Ferreira now combine for five of those, with Porteous accounting for two more. The other two belong to Canada’s Mike Riddle (silver) — Riddle happens to coach the U.S. halfpipe team at the moment — and France’s Kevin Rolland (bronze), both from 2014. Rolland was sixth in Beijing.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous stands after receiving his gold medal from the men's halfpipe skiing final at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Francisco Seco/AP

A not-so-fun number for Blunck is seven, which is the exact place the 25-year-old Colorado native has finished in all three of his Olympic appearances. Blunck has won at X Games and at the world championships, so the Olympic podium is about the only thing missing from his resume.

Happy trails

The Beijing contest was the career finale for at least two of the skiers, Rolland and Gus Kenworthy, who both are retiring. Rolland, 32, who is the cousin of French freeskier Tess Ledeux, was the 2009 world champion (he also has three other podiums at worlds) and was a three-time X Games champion.

Kenworthy, 30, grew up in Telluride and was long a mainstay for the U.S. ski team before deciding to compete for his mother’s homeland of Great Britain in his final Olympics. A five-time X Games medalist, Kenworthy won Olympic slopestyle silver in 2014 and was one of the first action-sports athletes to come out as being gay.

“This sport and the Olympics and competing on a professional level has changed my life in ways I could have never imagined,” said Kenworthy, who finished eighth in Beijing. “I’m gay. I felt like I didn’t fit in, in sport. To be out and proud, competing at the Olympics, and all of the opportunities that have come my way since the Olympics, I couldn’t be more thankful.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Shiffrin, US fourth in mixed team Olympic event; Austria wins gold

Mikaela Shiffrin races during the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing.
Luca Bruno/AP

BEIJING — Mikaela Shiffrin skied cleanly through the finish line four times Sunday. At the bottom of the parallel course, she hugged teammates and huddled with them under a bed comforter for warmth.

The Austrians won, and the Americans ended up off the podium. But after such an exasperating Olympics, the moment was good as gold for Shiffrin anyway.

“It’s the most special feeling, the most positive and optimistic feeling that I’ve had for this whole time that we’ve been here,” she said.

Shiffrin and the American mixed ski team missed out on a medal by 0.42 seconds, losing in the bronze matchup to Norway on Sunday. The narrow loss meant the two-time gold medalist would leave China empty handed, but after crashing out several times at the Beijing Games, Shiffrin was riding high from a strong U.S. showing.

“I have had a lot of disappointing moments at these Games, today is not one of them,” Shiffrin said. “Today is my favorite memory.”

The top-ranked Austrians won gold in the Winter Games’ second iteration of the mixed team parallel event, holding off Germany in the final.

The U.S. used Shiffrin on the slower of the parallel courses, and she lost three of her four heats, including in the bronze matchup against Norway. Teammate River Radamus delivered the win the U.S. needed in the last heat to force a 2-2 deadlock, but he wasn’t fast enough to tilt the tiebreaker — combined times of the fastest man and woman — to the Americans’ favor.

“River, I mean, we’re watching you at the bottom there, and the fact you’re skiing so strongly, you’re giving us hope, that’s the biggest win you could give us,” Shiffrin said to Radamus.

Shiffrin went 0 for 5 in her bid for an individual medal in Beijing. She only reached the finish line at two individual events, coming in ninth in the super-G and 18th in the downhill, her two worst contests. She lasted about five gates in giant slalom, five gates in the slalom and 10 in the slalom portion of the two-leg combined.

“I would say that my teammates are what carried me through this Olympics,” she said. “I just want to say thank you for that.”

The 26-year-old Shiffrin easily managed the giant slalom course in the first round and beat Slovakia’s Rebeka Jancova — one of few victories by skiers on the slower red course all day. Radamus and Paula Moltzan won their heats by even larger margins as the U.S. advanced.

Shiffrin lost her quarterfinal race from the red slope against Italy’s Marta Bassino by 2 hundredths of a second. The sixth-seeded Americans still advanced with a 3-1 upset of the third seed.

In the semis, Shiffrin was narrowly beaten by Germany’s Lena Duerr. Tommy Ford was unable to win from the red course in the final heat, dropping the Americans into the bronze match.

“I don’t think you can emphasize enough how unbelievable it is for us to be here and be in the hunt for a medal,” Shiffrin said. “I get that people will say we came up short, but the thing is, to have this depth on our team coming from the U.S., competing in a European dominated sport … it was unbelievable.”

Austria also tied in the final against the Germans, but Stefan Brennsteiner and Katharina Liensberger took their heats in a faster combined time than Duerr and Alexander Schmid. Austria won silver in the event’s debut at the Pyeongchang Games four years ago.

Austria’s Johannes Strolz also won the individual combined and took silver in slalom, giving him three medals in Beijing a year after he was cut from the country’s roster.

“I am just very, very thankful and happy to achieve this with my team,” he said.

The mixed team event was postponed a day after gusts at up to about 40 mph (65 kph) kept skiers off the slopes Saturday. Shiffrin and most of the U.S. team had been scheduled to fly out of China early Sunday but changed their plans to remain in the team event. Many skiers were likely eager to depart with the World Cup circuit resuming next weekend, with the women in Switzerland and the men in Germany.

Shiffrin leads the overall World Cup standings and said she nearly skipped town to prioritize recovery.

“There was aboslutely some thought that the 24 hours makes a difference to still be like, pushing and using that energy,” she said. “And I decided to stay because I wanted to compete with my teammates.”

Conditions were slightly calmer Sunday, with gusts reaching around 30 mph (48 kph), but temperatures dipped to minus 3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius). Skiers gathered at the bottom of the course in white comforters they apparently brought from their rooms.

The mixed team event has drawn little interest from the sport’s top skiers, both because of they don’t love the format and because it’s so close to the end of the Games. When mixed team debuted in 2018, 15 of that year’s 23 individual medal winners skipped it, including Shiffrin.

This year, Strolz was the only one of Alpine’s 10 gold medalists to participate. Only 15 teams even entered, so No. 1 seed Austria got a first-round bye.

“There’s things to work out with the logistics of this event,” Shiffrin said. “There’s still things that need to be worked out, but I think we were all so excited to compete together. It’s not something you get very often.”

Mikaela Shiffrin of United States, center, stands in the finish area after losing the bronze medal race of the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Stefan Brennsteiner of Austria, left, and Julian Rauchfuss of Germany during the gold medal race of the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Mikaela Shiffrin of United States races during the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Thea Louise Stjernesund of Norway, left, and Mikaela Shiffrin of United States race during the bronze medal race of the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Magdalena Luczak of Poland crashes during the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca De Aliprandini of Italy, front, and Ivan Kuznetsov of the Russian Olympic Comittee race during the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Mikaela Shiffrin, right, and River Radamus of United States react in the finish area after losing semifinal of the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Katharina Liensberger of Austria, front, and Norway's Maria Therese Tviberg race in a semifinal of the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Team Austria, left, celebrate after winning the gold medal race of the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

‘Openly British’ freeskier Gus Kenworthy wraps up Winter Olympics, and career, his way

Britain's Gus Kenworthy competes during the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/Ap

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Gus Kenworthy lifted his jacket to reveal a logo written across his gray shirt: “Openly British.”

That was his farewell to the Olympics. That, along with a thank-you to the sport of freestyle skiing.

The 30-year-old who once represented the United States and now competes for Britain explained Saturday after the ski halfpipe final that his message was a play on the phrase “Openly Gay.”

He came out in 2015, the year after he won silver in Sochi — an Olympics where he captured headlines, and imaginations, by bringing stray dogs home from the mountain.

“This sport and the Olympics and competing on a professional level has changed my life in ways I could have never imagined,” said Kenworthy, who finished eighth on a blustery day on the halfpipe and in his final competition. “I’m gay. I felt like I didn’t fit in, in sport. To be out and proud, competing at the Olympics, and all of the opportunities that have come my way since the Olympics, I couldn’t be more thankful.

“I know there’s an expiration date and I’m at that date.”

Kenworthy’s career includes the Olympic medal — the slopestyle silver from Sochi.

An even more iconic moment came four years later in Pyeongchang when he kissed his then-boyfriend at the bottom of the hill. That kiss was caught by TV cameras and turned into a worldwide sensation. Kenworthy said he was grateful for the moment, because maybe it would make things easier for gay men coming up in sports in the future.

He wanted to make an Olympic curtain call in 2022. The most straightforward path was to compete for his mother’s home country of Britain. Some criticized the move by an athlete who was born and trained in the U.S. It’s hardly the first time Kenworthy has rocked the boat.

Britain's Gus Kenworthy falls during the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/Ap

“I’m not everybody’s cup of tea,” Kenworthy said. “I’m out and proud and gay and loud. I think that a lot of athletes really want to kind of feather the line of every different angle and sort of be able to appeal to the masses. I’ve already kind of accepted that that’s not what I’m going to do. So I’m just going to speak my truth.”

He skied away the way he wanted — on his feet. Albeit, a little sore after a wipeout in a previous run.

“I wish I could have done a little more,” Kenworthy said. “But overall, I’m still feeling very grateful and proud of the career that I’ve had.”

Bolshunov wins third gold of Beijing Olympics in men’s 30K cross-country ski race

Russian athlete Alexander Bolshunov reacts after crossing the finish during the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Alessandra Tarantino/AP

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — The windy conditions played right into the hands — and skis — of Alexander Bolshunov.

The Russian earned his third gold medal of the Beijing Olympics on Saturday, winning the weather-shortened 30-kilometer mass start cross-country ski race.

The race was delayed by an hour and then shortened from the originally planned 50 kilometers because of frigid temperatures and strong wind. The temperature hovered around minus 18 degrees C (0 degrees F).

“Overall I can say that when the conditions are harder, this is in my favor because when it is harder, it is easier for me,” Bolshunov said. “In the morning the weather was harder. The wind was stronger and the temperature was colder. When we started the race, the weather got a bit better and I think today we could have skied 50 kilometers.”

Bolshunov was part of a five-man breakaway in the last kilometer. He pushed ahead on the final climb into the stadium and won in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 32.7 seconds.

Russian teammate Ivan Yakimushkin crossed the line 5.5 seconds behind for silver. Simen Hegstad Krueger of Norway took bronze, seven seconds behind.

Bolshunov, who is coached Yuri Borodavko, also won gold in the skiathlon and the relay at the Beijing Games. He took silver in the 15-kilometer classic ski race and bronze in the team sprint.

Krueger was competing in his first race at the Beijing Games after testing positive for COVID-19 at the end of January. He arrived in China late.

“It was a victory for me to just be able to race here today after being ill with COVID and being stuck in isolation for 10 days,” Krueger said. “I was isolating in my hotel room when the first competitions were here, so I didn’t think I would be able to race at all at this championship.

“Then I got the chance to go to the last race. To be able to go home with an Olympic medal, that’s a huge victory for me and an amazing feeling.”

World Cup leader Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo fell off the back of the lead group about 33 minutes into the race. He took his bib off and walked off the tracks with about 7.9 kilometers still to go.

He said he had a stomach bug the night before and didn’t sleep well.

“I made the decision this morning that I was supposed to skip the 50-kilometer, and then they made the decision that it was supposed to be 30 kilometers instead. Then I decided, OK then, I will at least take a chance and see,” Klaebo said. “It didn’t work at all, so (it was) not the ending I had hoped for, but that’s life.”

The brutal cold has taken a toll on the athletes. Most wore tape on their faces to protect against the wind and many had frost crested around their mouths at the end.

The snow was so cold it sounded like lasers firing as the racers skied by. Cold snow creates friction with the base of the skis, making a squeaky noise with each pole and glide.

The skiers stayed together through the first lap, which helped protect them from the wind. About 16 skiers pulled ahead at the 28-minute mark.

American skier Scott Patterson, who finished 11th in the 50-kilometer race at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, stayed with the leading pack until the final push and ended up in eighth place.

It was the best Olympic result for an American man in cross-country skiing since Bill Koch won silver at the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

“I tried to stay pretty calm,” Patterson said. “I felt pretty strong, pretty relaxed. I’m happy. I came in wanting a top 10 and got it today.”

Russian athlete Ivan Yakimushkin leads a group during the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Gold medal finisher Russian athlete Alexander Bolshunov reacts during a venue ceremony after the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Apostolos Angelis, of Greece, is covered in ice after finishing the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
From left, silver medal finisher Russian athlete Ivan Yakimushkin, gold medal finisher Russian athlete Alexander Bolshunov and bronze medal finisher Norway's Simen Hegstad Krueger pose during a venue ceremony after the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
The face of China's Chen Degen is covered in ice after the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Norway's Simen Hegstad Krueger warms up under a blanket after finishing the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Apostolos Angelis, of Greece, is covered in ice after finishing the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Russian athlete Alexander Bolshunov reacts as he nears the finish line during the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Russian athlete Alexander Bolshunov reacts after crossing the finish ahead of Russian athlete Ivan Yakimushkin (3) and Norway's Simen Hegstad Krueger (4) during the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Russian athlete Alexander Bolshunov nears the finish during the men's weather-shortened 50km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Canadians honor late Sarah Burke on another great day of Olympic halfpipe skiing

Silver medal winner Canada's Cassie Sharpe celebrates during the venue award ceremony for the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Cassie Sharpe shared the podium Friday with her Canadian teammate Rachael Karker.

These halfpipe skiers know they’re never alone up there. Another member of their Canadian family, the late Sarah Burke, is the reason they were given this chance.

That this sport is even in the Olympics, that Eileen Gu even had a chance for a second gold medal at the Games, is due in large part to the work of Burke, the Canadian freestyle icon who died in a training accident in 2012.

Her memory is never far from the freestyle skiing community, especially in her Canadian homeland, which now owns gold, silver and bronze Olympic medals in the event that Burke helped bring to the Games.

“She’s definitely here with us and the reason we are here,” said Sharpe, the 2018 Pyeongchang champion, who finished runner-up to Gu as Karker earned bronze. “It’s an honor to be on the podium and representing what she believed in.”

At Burke’s urging, the International Olympic Committee added halfpipe skiing to the program in 2011 for a debut in 2014.

Less than a year later, the multi-time Winter X Games halfpipe champion suffered fatal injuries during a training run in the halfpipe. She was 29 and would have been the favorite at the 2014 Sochi Games. Before those Olympics, her parents and teammates spread Burke’s ashes around the mountains and halfpipe in Russia.

For those from Canada, her presence is an everyday thing. At the team’s wax cabin hangs a Canadian flag with Burke’s name written across it.

“She’s always on all of our minds,” Canadian freestyle coach Trennon Paynter said. “She’s the reason these women are here doing this. This whole thing just feels like it’s a tribute to her and and it always will be.”

Her death left an unfillable void in the action-sports community that is still felt today. Before the women took to the halfpipe for the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, last month, a moment of silence was held for Burke to mark the 10th anniversary of her death.

The performances by Karker, Sharpe and Gu on Friday were a different sort of tribute.

“She pushed the boundaries and she stood for everything that I stand for now,” said Gu, who shares the same birthday with Burke, Sept. 3. “She was so ahead of her time. Her legacy will never fade because we all owe her so much, just to be able to be here today.”

After winning bronze, Karker was asked about Burke.

“I really hope she’d be really proud to see two Canadians on the podium today,” Karker said.

“Hell yeah, she would,” Sharpe responded.

No doubt, she would have appreciated a contest that saw Gu fly nearly 14 feet out of the halfpipe and pull off back-to-back 900s and back-to-back 540s — a pair of all-but-unheard-of combos — in her second run.

And no doubt, Burke would have loved watching Sharpe, who threw a pair of 1080s only a year after needing surgery to fix a torn-up knee that left her doubting whether she would even be able to defend her title.

All in all, it was another fine day for Canada, and another fine day for halfpipe skiing.

“We all owe her so much, just to be able to be here today,” Gu said. “I know she championed for female extreme sports events to be in Olympics and the Winter X Games. To be able to see her legacy carried out in ways like that is very meaningful. Even though I never got to meet her, I definitely pay my respects to her. May she rest in peace.”

From left silver medal winner Canada's Cassie Sharpe, gold medal winner China's Eileen Gu and bronze medal winner Canada's Rachael Karker celebrate during the venue award ceremony for the women's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
From left bronze medal winner Canada's Rachael Karker, gold medal winner China's Eileen Gu and silver medal winner Canada's Cassie Sharpe celebrate during the venue award ceremony for the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Gold medal winner China's Eileen Gu (1) celebrates with Silver medal winner Canada's Cassie Sharpe (4) and Bronze medal winner Canada's Rachael Karker after the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
FILE - In a Jan. 28, 2010, file photo, Sarah Burke, of Canada, reacts after failing to place in the top-three finishers in the slopestyle skiing women's final at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain outside Aspen, Colo. Burke died in a training accident in 2012. Her memory is never far from the freestyle skiing community, especially the community in Canada, which now owns gold, silver and bronze medals in the Olympic event that Burke helped bring to the Games. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
Canada's Cassie Sharpe competes during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
From left silver medal winner Canada's Cassie Sharpe, gold medal winner China's Eileen Gu and bronze medal winner Canada's Rachael Karker celebrate during the venue award ceremony for the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Bronze in Beijing: Aspen’s Ferreira wins second Olympic medal in halfpipe skiing

Bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrates during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Mother Nature couldn’t bring enough wind, nor could Nico Porteous do enough spins, to bring down the good vibes felt by Aspen’s Alex Ferreira after he won Olympic bronze in men’s halfpipe skiing on Saturday at the Beijing Games.

Only nine months ago the 27-year-old Ferreira had surgery to fix two pinched nerves in his neck that had been causing him intense pain for more than a year. To end up on the Olympic podium for a second time — he won silver four years ago in Pyeongchang — was more than he could ask for.

“No one liked me. I didn’t like me, because I was just demoralized every day in such horrible pain. I’m just happy to be out of pain and alive,” Ferreira told reporters after the final in Zhangjiakou, which is about 100 miles from Beijing. “Once I started getting healthy from that, I just started small, going on little walks, little runs, then major bike rides, then the trampoline every day, and I just started to get motivated again. I started to feel like me again. I started to be happy and just live my life.”

Despite the gusty conditions that at times overshadowed the final, Ferreira’s first-run score of 86.75 was enough for bronze in the three-run format that saw all the podium results come from that first run through the Genting Snow Park halfpipe.

New Zealand’s Porteous won Olympic gold behind his back-to-back 1620 combo — he won bronze in 2018 — while Nevada’s David Wise won silver, ending his reign as the Olympic champion after winning gold in both 2014 and 2018. It was the exact same podium as from Pyeongchang four years ago, only in a different order.

“I stomped what I knew,” Porteous said of performing in the frigid and windy conditions. “Tried my best and left everything out there. … It’s so freezing cold right now, I’m lost for words.”

United States's Alex Ferreira reacts during the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Porteous wasted no time putting down his 1620 combo — something he did for the first time at X Games Aspen in 2021 — for a 93 that held on through the three rounds. Wise scored 90.75 on his highly technical first run, which held down the top spot until Porteous went two skiers later.

Only 20, Porteous currently is the reigning Olympic champion, world champion and two-time reigning X Games Aspen champion.

The skiers admitted that the wind, reported to be around 15 mph — not to mention a wind chill around minus-26 degrees Fahrenheit — limited the runs they could do. Ferreira said his runs were about 85% of his best due to the weather.

“Very tough conditions today. I worked my absolute cheeks off. I gave it my 100%, every single thing that I had I put into those runs, so I’m just so grateful to be standing on the podium,” Ferreira said. “Everybody in the field planned out much more difficult runs, but when we have this kind of wind and this kind of conditions, you just have to do the best you can possibly do and I came out there and I did my best.”

Canada’s Noah Bowman was fourth, followed by Winter Park’s Birk Irving in fifth, France’s Kevin Rolland in sixth and Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck in seventh. The 25-year-old Blunck has finished exactly seventh in all three of his Olympic appearances.

The Telluride-raised Gus Kenworthy, competing for his mother’s homeland of Great Britain, finished eighth. He crashed on his first two runs but scored 71.25 on his third run, which was likely the last of his career. The 30-year-old Kenworthy, who won slopestyle silver back at the 2014 Games, said he will retire after these Olympics.

Rounding out the finalists were Canadians Brendan Mackay in ninth and Simon D’Artois in 10th; New Zealand’s Miguel Porteous, Nico’s older brother, in 11th; and Switzerland’s Robin Briguet in 12th.

SLIDESHOW: Click here for more photos of Alex Ferreira’s bronze-medal day

Ferreira scored 86.75 on his first run behind four different double corks. He upped the difficulty in his second and third runs, pairing a double cork 1620 with a double cork 1440, but missed grabs didn’t sit well with the judges, scoring 83.75 and 67.75 to close out his contest.

Thankfully for him, that first run was enough to go home with another medal.

“I’m a workhorse. Every day, all day, I’m just there. I’m at the trampoline, I’m at the water ramps, I’m at the gym, and the people who know me closest, they know,” Ferreira said. “Extremely happy, extremely grateful to get the job done. Being on the podium, that’s my second Olympics, two medals, I consider that a ‘W’ if you ask me.”

Porteous was the overwhelming favorite coming into the contest and laid it all out there on his first run. His 1620 combo is currently unmatched by his competitors and puts him at the forefront of progression in men’s halfpipe skiing.

While the 20-year-old Kiwi is likely just getting started, Ferreira now finds himself among the older generation just trying to keep up. Prior to going to China, Ferreira admitted it was Porteous who provided him with the inspiration for learning the double cork 1620 — that’s four-and-a-half rotations, plus the two inversions, or corks — in the lead-up to the Games.

“It’s so hard for the younger generation to break through, but it’s also hard for the older generation to keep up,” Ferreira said. “For me, I’m right in that middle ground where I’m a little bit older, but I’m also still gunning. I still feel like a kid and I still want to keep that energy and keep learning and growing and doing my best.”

After recovering from neck surgery, Ferreira returned to his 2018 Olympic podium form. He won the season-opening Copper Grand Prix and a week later won Dew Tour for the third time in his career, locking up a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for the second time.

Getting to the Beijing Games was a trying journey for the Aspen kid, who grew up with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and still lives just down the road at Aspen Highlands. He was hoping to end up a few steps higher on the podium, but all things considered that bronze is as good as gold.

“I never thought I’d be the same, or I didn’t know if I could be the same again. And I competed for the first time at the Copper Grand Prix and I ended up winning the event,” Ferreira said. “My goal was to get the gold and I wasn’t able to accomplish that today, but being on the podium in such tough conditions, honestly I feel like I got the gold. That’s two Olympics with two medals. It’s two-fer. I feel so happy and so grateful to be here. It’s a good day.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

CORRECTS TO SILVER MEDAL NOT GOLD - Silver medal winner Alex Ferreira, of the United States, is carried by his coach, Elana Chase, after the men's halfpipe final at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
United States's Alex Ferreira competes during the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
United States's Alex Ferreira competes during the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
United States's Alex Ferreira reacts during the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
United States's Alex Ferreira competes during the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
United States's Alex Ferreira competes during the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
From left silver medal winner United States' David Wise, gold medal winner New Zealand's Nico Porteous and bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrate after the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrates during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrates during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
From left silver medal winner United States' David Wise, gold medal winner New Zealand's Nico Porteous and bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrate during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
From left silver medal winner United States' David Wise, gold medal winner New Zealand's Nico Porteous and bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrate during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrates during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
From left silver medal winner United States' David Wise, gold medal winner New Zealand's Nico Porteous and bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrate during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrates during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
From left silver medal winner United States' David Wise, gold medal winner New Zealand's Nico Porteous and bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrate during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
From left silver medal winner United States' David Wise, gold medal winner New Zealand's Nico Porteous and bronze medal winner United States's Alex Ferreira celebrate during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)