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As the snow fell gently around him Mike Riddle looked up, smiled and thought of his friend, Sarah Burke.
Burke was a pioneer in freestyle skiing, pushing for more competitions for women and to include halfpipe and slopestyle in the Winter Olympics. She died two years ago during training, not living long enough to see both events added to Olympics in Sochi. And now here was Riddle, one of her closest friends and a former teammate, winning the first Olympic silver medal in ski halfpipe.
“These are Sarah’s Olympics for sure. She was pushing hard for our sport to be here and without her I don’t think halfpipe or slopestyle for skiing would be where they are today,” Riddle said after Tuesday night’s competition. “She’s on my mind this whole time. I’ve been thinking about her a lot. I miss her but she’s definitely in my heart this whole time.”
He paused and added: “I think she’s sending some of this snow down so we can ski powder tomorrow.”
It was a hard fought medal for Riddle. Snow and rain had fallen all day at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, making conditions on the halfpipe constantly changing. There were several falls during the final round including two by Canadian Justin Dorey who finished 12. Two other Canadians, Noah Bowman and Matt Margetts, placed sixth and 15th respectively.
Riddle entered the last round in sixth spot. He needed to land something special to move up, but the falling snow had made the halfpipe slow meaning it would be difficult to generate enough speed to pull off a dynamic trick. But somehow he did it, putting together two moves – each involving three and half rotations and two flips -- back to back, something he had never done in competition before. He wanted to throw in one more new trick at the end, but couldn’t get up enough speed. “I couldn’t be happier with the result,” he said. “I’m just totally overwhelmed by the experience.”
He joked about his age, 27, and how he was more than a decade older than some of the other competitors. It was a sign not only of his longevity in the sport, but also of the new breed of daredevils coming up. Like American Aaron Blunck, just 17-years old, who advanced to the final round, and 15-year old Marco Ladner of Austria.
“I definitely think having a little bit of experience helped,” he said pointing out that he was the second-oldest competitor in the event. “Knowing what to do when the weather is bad and when to hold back and when to send it, definitely is an advantage in conditions like this.”
Standing watching were his parents, Rob and Debbie who are from Edmonton. Rob once competed in moguls and freestyle skiing “back in the 70s” and thought about what his son and the other competitors could have done in better weather. “It would have been a lot nicer to have good conditions so they could really show what they can do,” he said.
Ms. Riddle talked about Burke and how much this would have meant to her. “They were very close,” she said.
Like any mother she watched each of her son’s runs on Tuesday, anxiously. “You have to make yourself see it, you want to see it. Good or bad,” she said. “The only thing I did was cross my fingers.”
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