Halfpipe podium points to sky in Sarah Burke tribute

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Serious history was made in many ways Thursday night when women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe debuted as a part of the Olympic program, but that’s only the beginning of it.

Maddie Bowman became the youngest American to win a gold medal during the Sochi Games.

France’s Marie Martinod put the capstone on her career by returning from retirement to take silver, which – when combined with the French sweep (the first time in Winter Olympic history) in ski cross – made for the most medals France had ever earned in a single day.

What was the most historical, though, was when the women on the podium pointed to the sky to pay tribute to Sarah Burke.

WATCH: Flower ceremony for freestyle halpipe

“Sarah Burke is watching over us tonight, and we just want to honor her as much as we can,” said Bowman, who first met her freeski idol at an X Games event years back.

This event was not about the evolution of tricks, the scores that were garnered or even the medals that were awarded. This event was about the feeling of the occasion and what it meant to the riders to be a part of something that was so important to their late friend.

Burke, four-time X Games champion, tragically passed while training only two years prior to her goal of Olympic inclusion being realized firsthand. Considered by her freeski colleagues to be the most pivotal person in ushering their sport into the Olympics, the night’s highs and lows were not due to the actual events that unfolded, but to the memories of Burke and the wish that she could have been a part of the event itself.

Leading into the Games, stickers were donned across the gear of the majority of the skiers, as well as a fair amount of their snowboarding counterparts. Burke was an inspiration to most and to ride with a “Celebrate Sarah” sticker meant to ride with pride.

However as the Games began, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) deemed the stickers to be a political statement and therefore illegal to promote on their equipment.

The point to the sky was a response that could not be stopped.

WATCH: Bowman’s gold-medal highlights

“I pointed to the sky because the IOC did not want us to wear [the stickers] on our helmets. So, we all decided we would point to the sky as a sign of respect for Sarah,” said Martinod, who was a dear friend to Burke.

Martinod has a unique story with relation to not only Burke, but as to how she ultimately came to be a part of Thursday’s event at all.

Years ago, Martinod had retired from the world of competitive skiing. In part because she had a daughter to take care of and be close to and “saw that life had some treasures” for her outside of skiing. Martinod opened a nightclub that she ran but sold last year just before returning to the World Cup circuit.

Why did she sell the nightclub and return to competitive skiing despite thinking she would never make such a return? Because Burke asked her to.

“[Sarah] had this contest in La Plagne [France] next to my place and after the contest she passed by,” reminisced Martinod. “She said, ‘Marie I just want you to know that I’m working [getting halfpipe] into the Olympics. It’s going to happen, for sure, and you should think about coming back.’ That was the last time that I saw her.”

Burke passed away only a matter of months after that.

“I did what she wanted me to do.”

The story of Burke is one that will never be forgotten in the hearts of these Winter Olympians, and the symbolic gesture of pointing to the sky was something that should go down in Olympic history as a story for the ages.

Celebrate Sarah.

Canada names Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearers

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Figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are Canada’s flag bearers for the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

It’s the first time Canada will have multiple flag bearers at an Opening Ceremony.

Virtue and Moir won ice dance gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and silver in Sochi in 2014.

After a two-year break, they went undefeated last season and won their third world championship.

They lost for the first time in their comeback at last month’s Grand Prix Final to French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Canada finished in the top three in the total medal standings at the last three Winter Olympics, including topping the gold-medal standings at the 2010 Vancouver Games with a record 14.

Recent Canadian Winter Olympic flag bearers
2014 Opening: Hayley Wickenheiser, Hockey
2014 Closing: Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, Bobsled
2010 Opening: Clara Hughes, Speed Skating
2010 Closing: Joannie Rochette, Figure Skating
2006 Opening: Danielle Goyette, Hockey
2006 Closing: Cindy Klassen, Speed Skating
2002 Opening: Catriona Le May Doan, Speed Skating
2002 Closing: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Figure Skating

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MORE: Canada’s Olympic figure skating team roster

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to cover Super Bowl LII, Olympics for NBC

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will cover Super Bowl LII and the PyeongChang Olympics as a contributor for NBC.

Earnhardt will spend the first weekend in February covering the outdoor activities in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl Pre-Game Show (NBC, Feb. 4).

Then he will travel to South Korea for the Winter Games.

From NBC Sports PR:

“Earnhardt will travel to PyeongChang, where he will explore the culture, people, and traditions in South Korea, and experience Olympic competitions first hand. Earnhardt will visit the speed skating venue at Gangneung Ice Arena, and through the lens of a racer will view the speed, close contact, and tight turns on the short track speed skating oval, which so closely mirror Earnhardt’s racing days and nights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Following a recent invite on social media from his new friends on the U.S. bobsled team, including U.S. bobsled team pilot Nick Cunningham, Earnhardt will also travel to Alpensia Sliding Center, where he will test the true speed of the bobsled track and live out his post-retirement dream of riding in an Olympic bobsled.”

Earnhardt, 43, retired last year after 19 NASCAR seasons, which included Daytona 500 wins in 2004 and 2014.

He is now a NASCAR on NBC analyst.

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MORE: Breakdown of NBC Olympics record 2,400 hours of programming