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Silver medallist Cassie Sharpe of Canada celebrates winning silver in the Women's Freeski halfpipe final at the Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China on Feb. 18, 2022.LISI NIESNER/Reuters

The night before competing in the women’s freeski halfpipe at the Beijing Olympics, Cassie Sharpe wrote in her journal that regardless of the event’s outcome she should be proud of herself.

Sharpe had won gold at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and was set to defend her Olympic crown when she broke her femur and tore the ligaments in her left knee in a crash at the Winter X-Games in January 2021. Reconstructive surgery followed by nine months of physical rehabilitation and only four months of skiing paid off for Sharpe on Friday when she won silver at the Beijing Olympics with friend and teammate Rachael Karker earning bronze.

“Coming to these Games after being out for nine months, I knew that it was going to take a lot to even just be on the podium,” said Sharpe. “So this feels incredibly special. I’m incredibly proud of myself and I’m just grateful to have put all of the pieces together today.”

Chinese sensation Eileen Gu took the gold, with a score of 95.25 in her second run at Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park. Most of the spectators – including event staff and volunteers – were loudly cheering for Gu, who won her third medal of the Beijing Olympics after a gold in women’s big air and a silver in women’s slopestyle.

“It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I’ve ever experienced in my life,” said Gu, who holds dual citizenship with China and the United States. “It has changed my life forever. The second I landed the last 1600 in big air I knew my life was never going to be the same.

“Even then I would have never imagined that I’d walk away with another silver and another gold.”

Sharpe, a 29-year-old from Calgary, scored 90.75 on her third run to clinch silver. She had held down the silver position behind Gu through all three rounds with an 89.00 and a 90.00 in her first and second runs respectively.

She said having a good score early was a psychological advantage.

“It kind of solidifies you and makes you feel comfortable to push yourself and try harder tricks and keep pushing your runs,” said Sharpe. “The pressure is always on that first run and it kind of sets the tone with how the day is going to go.”

Karker, from Erin, Ont., scored 87.75 on her first run in her Olympic debut after serving as first alternate for Canada in 2018. She went on to earn silver at the 2021 world championships on her way to qualifying for the Beijing Olympics.

“It was really heartbreaking for me last Games to be first alternate but I wasn’t ready to medal then,” said Karker. “So coming into these Games as a medal contender was just amazing and I can’t believe how far I’ve come in the last four years and I’m super proud.”

Calgary’s Amy Fraser finished eighth in her Olympic debut with a 75.25. She waited for Sharpe and Karker at the bottom of the halfpipe at the end of their final runs, with the three of them hugging and congratulating each other.

“I couldn’t be more stoked for my teammates ending up on the podium like, Canada doesn’t mess around,” said Fraser, who briefly stopped her interviews so she could watch Karker and Sharpe climb the podium.

“Cassie’s become one of my best friends over the last year and I don’t think people understand how much she’s overcome to make it here,” said Fraser, pausing to compose herself. “Sorry, it makes you choke up. It’s frickin’ unreal she’s climbing the podium right now.”

Sharpe’s injuries at the X-Games in January of 2021 didn’t just take a toll on her physically, but mentally. She said after winning her Olympic silver that her first six weeks being laid up as she recovered from surgery were some of the toughest weeks of her life.

“There’s a saying ‘to hell and back’ and that’s what I would describe it as,” said Sharpe. “After the first six weeks after surgery, I went to hell and I luckily have a very supportive family that helped pull me out of that and get me back on track and give me a kick in the butt.”

Sharpe added that she was fortunate because her brother Darcy was also at the Beijing Games, representing Canada in men’s snowboard slopestyle and big air. Her fiancé, Justin Dorey, is a coach for Great Britain in Beijing, so she had a support network with her at the Olympics even as most athletes can’t have family with them because of COVID-19 protocols.

All three Canadians had a large cheering section for the women’s freeski halfpipe, second only to the Chinese supporters. Clad all in red and waving Canadian flags hung from hockey sticks, Sharpe and Karker both said the highly visible display of patriotism helped motivate them.

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