Editorial: Why Sarah Burke won these Olympics

Comments by Nate Abbott/

140220_Abbott_OLY_HP_0043_610

Brita Sigourney throws down a 900 during the debut of Olympic halfpipe skiing. Photo: Nate Abbott.

Sarah Burke would not have won these Olympics, but she did anyway. At the apex of anticipating freeskiing halfpipe (Maybe. Possibly? Hopefully!) becoming an Olympic sport, it was easy to speculate on the champions: Simon Dumont and Sarah Burke. Even after the announcement of halfpipe’s inclusion, and the addition of slopestyle, a pair of clear favorites in Tom Wallisch and Kevin Rolland stood out from the pack. This past week, Rolland took bronze while Wallisch and Dumont stayed home. Burke, as we all know, passed away tragically in a training accident—two years ago now. In freeskiing one skier may seem unbeatable, and then, suddenly they are not.

Sarah spent her life skiing, but that wasn’t all. She spearheaded the organization of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (the framework by which freeskiing made its way to the Olympic stage). She fought for women’s contests, coached younger skiers and dedicated her efforts to giving girls a reason to ski as well as a way to make a living in doing so. For an athlete at the pinnacle of her sport, none of that was necessary to secure her own financial well-being or her legacy. And still, she did everything in her power to create the skiers who would surpass her. The girls who revered Sarah are now women.

Sarah’s legacy has been discussed and lauded. All that praise, all that we have celebrated, was nothing when compared to what I saw on the night of February 20, 2014 at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games. What I saw was Sarah’s life manifesting itself in the same way that a garden cultivated with care—soil turned, seeds sown, water sprinkled, weeds tossed aside, patience exhibited—yields a delicious fruit, colorful, crisp in flavor and full of life.

Certainly Sarah could have won and she would have given every part of her soul to that end. Whether incrementally or immediately though, age catches up with all of us. And so the most fitting tribute I can give is that Sarah Burke’s talent and commitment to skiing were the fertilizer for the contest I saw. So many specific moments from the deepest ever field in a women’s halfpipe contest stand out and then more moments go beyond what I can write about: Maddie Bowman’s huge 900s and unbeatable run, Ayana Onuzuka’s technically precise massive airs, Annalisa Drew going for a 1260, Brita Sigourney’s amplitude and style (and Sarah-esque courage) and huge 540s with locked in grabs from Sarah’s contemporary Marie Martinod.

All those pieces of the story of women’s Olympic halfpipe are what warrant these words. The armbands, stickers and human tributes have been special. The skiing, though, is the ultimate proof that Sarah Burke lives on.

More from Sochi; visit freeskier.com/olympics.