Sochi, Russia • The last time Brita Sigourney competed at the venue that will host the new ski halfpipe event at the Sochi Olympics, she left the wrong way.
In serious pain.
Freeskiing in Sochi
Freeskiing events are new to the Olympics in Sochi, with strong U.S. medal chances in every discipline.
Feb. 11 » Women’s slopestyle
Feb. 13 » Men’s slopestyle
Feb. 18 » Men’s halfpipe
Feb. 20 » Women’s halfpipe
The 24-year-old Park City resident broke her collarbone and tore shoulder ligaments in a crash — her third season-ending injury in as many years. Now, nearly a year later, she hopes to enjoy a far better experience at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, where she and two other Utah residents hope to stand on the podium when their sport makes its debut at the Olympics.
"It’s definitely time for us to be included," Sigourney said.
Sixteen years after snowboarding joined the Olympics and grew into one of their most popular sports, the ski version has joined the lineup, and promises the same kind of high-flying acrobatic skills. Maybe even better ones, too — the athletes say they tend to fly higher out of the halfpipe than the snowboarders, with a wider visual variety of tricks.
"Snowboarding definitely pioneered, but we definitely bring our own flair to it," said Maddie Bowman, the two-time defending Winter X Games champion. "We have different grabs. We go different heights. We do different tricks that look completely different."
Bowman has to be considered the favorite for gold, owing to her dominance at Winter X Games the past two years.
But her best friend Sigourney and teammate Angeli VanLaanen are podium threats as well — Bowman and VanLaanen live in Salt Lake City, and Sigourney in Park City — in a sport that figures to boost Team USA’s medal count at these Olympics.
World champion and three-time Winter X Games champ David Wise, world silver medalist Torin Yater-Wallace and Aaron Blunck all could medal on the men’s side, while the Americans also could sweep the men’s ski slopestyle, another skiing version of a snowboarding event that has been added in Sochi.
"Having snowboard halfpipe in for a number of Olympics definitely creates a ground understanding for what we’re doing out here," VanLaanen said. "But so much of what we’re doing out there is unique and different from what the snowboarders are doing. So in a way, it definitely introduced everyone to what we’re about to show them this year. But we’re out to show a whole new side of halfpipe."
The 28-year-old VanLaanen is a senior member of a team made up mostly of kids still too young to vote.
She suffered 14 years with undiagnosed Lyme disease, before finally being properly diagnosed and taking three years away from her sport to get healthy again.
But Sigourney has had a rough road, too.
The two-time Winter X Games medalist tore knee ligaments two years ago, then re-injured the same knee in a different way just before the X Games last year. She persisted, skiing in pain for about a month before crashing at a World Cup event in Sochi almost exactly a year ago.
When she learned she would need four months to recover from her shoulder injury, she decided to have a needed knee surgery, too. She was out from March until October.
"It was pretty terrible," she recalled.
All of her injuries "definitely led me to realize how much I love skiing and why I do what I do," Sigourney said. "I just had to re-evaluate the sport and if I wanted to go back, and it was always me dying to get back to the snow. If anything, it has really strengthened my athletic career and jut really broadened my love for skiing."
And now here she is, ready to compete for a gold medal at the Olympics.
"It’s really nice to have something not bothering me right now," she said. "I feel like I’ve made pretty good recovery, so I’m feeling good."
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