PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - Cassie Sharpe wears a mouth guard with a gold tooth painted in the middle and raps to herself just before she drops into the halfpipe, the bars of hip-hop group M.O.P.’s hit “Ante Up” buzzing through the Canadian freestyle skier’s head on a loop.
The ritual calms her down and pumps her up at the same time. On Tuesday, it preceded a dazzling show in the Olympic finals as the 25-year-old picked up the torch left by the late Canadian star Sarah Burke and carried it into the future.
Sharpe soared to gold with a pair of thrilling runs at Phoenix Snow Park, posting the top two scores of the day. The 95.80 she put up during her second set, one she capped by stomping a 1080-degree spin, marked the highest ever during the sport’s brief Olympic history.
France’s Marie Martinod, the Sochi silver medalist, came in second again (92.60), while Brita Sigourney of the United States earned the bronze medal with a score of 91.60.
Ayana Onozuka failed to make it back on the Olympic podium as the 2014 Sochi bronze medalist ended up a distant fifth with 82.20 points.
“I have to face up to this,” Onozuka said. “The top three just dominated.
“I couldn’t win a medal but I gave it everything I had. It’s tough for me that I didn’t medal, but it would have been worse if I knew I didn’t leave it all out there.”
Onozuka fell during the first run. She improved to 77.20 the second time out, but her final score did not come close to challenging the eventual medalists.
“The first run, I wasn’t expecting that at all,” she said. “I thought I could turn it around in the next run, but then I landed on the lip. If you look at the top three there is a gap, but I improved and was much better in the third so I’m happy about that.”
Freestyle halfpipe made its debut at the Sochi Games four years ago thanks in large part to the efforts of Burke, a four-time X Games winner who was at the forefront of the spirited movement to get it included into the Winter Olympic program.
Burke died from head injuries suffered in a training accident in 2012. Six years later, however, her legacy is secure. The proof came during Sharpe’s boundary-pushing display.
“I wouldn’t be doing the tricks that I do without her being in this sport,” Sharpe said. “She was the pioneer for us to be in the Olympics and for us to be a part of all of it so definitely, she’s always on our minds, she’s always with us.”
Martinod, a longtime friend of Burke’s who was lured out of possible retirement by Burke when halfpipe entered the Olympics, threw down a 92.60 on her second run. The 33-year-old mother also took a moment to tell Sharpe how she knew Burke would be impressed with the series of athletic leaps off the deck Sharpe seemed to do with remarkable ease.
“Marie said, ‘I feel you have the ability to carry on what Sarah was doing here,’ ” Sharpe said. “It feels totally good. Super special. It meant a lot. And it was mid-runs too and she was like, ‘OK, just focus on what you’re doing.’ Oh, OK then.”