SOCHI, Russia — The ashes of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke were spread in the Olympic halfpipe, high on a mountain above it and also near the Olympic rings in the athletes’ village.
Burke, considered a pioneer for the introduction of halfpipe and slopestyle into the Winter Games, died following a training accident in Utah in January, 2012.
Freestyle coach Trennon Paynter from Squamish, B.C., says he distributed the ashes in the halfpipe prior to the competition.
"That was a little bit of a stealth mission," Paynter said Saturday. "I feel pretty good about knowing Sarah was all over these Olympics in our hearts and quite literally too."
Burke was a four-time X Games champion and a driving force behind the inclusion of both halfpipe and slopestyle in the Sochi Olympics. She spent her early years in Barrie, Ont., but was living in Squamish when she died.
Burke competed against men until there was a women’s event. A leading contender for gold in Russia, she died at age 29 two years before her sport’s introduction into the Winter Games.
Paynter went alone on a gondola as high as he could on the mountain above Rhosa Khutor Extreme Park to leave some of Burke’s ashes there. The urn he carried was also in a freestyle team picture at the Olympic rings in the athletes village.
Prior to the start of women’s freestyle halfpipe Thursday at Rhosa Khutor, volunteers slid down the course in a heart-shaped formation in memory of Burke
"This event really, I feel, had Sarah at the core of it in so many ways," Paynter said.
Australian snowboarder Torah Bright, who won Olympic halfpipe gold, in 2010 was incensed the International Olympic Committee would not allow her to wear the "Sarah" stickers on her helmet and snowboard that she sports in other competitions.
"The sticker thing for us was really no big deal," Paynter said. "We knew the way the protocols worked here. We knew for a couple of years we wouldn’t be wearing stickers here. The rest of the season, I have Sarah stickers all over my stuff."
Burke’s husband Rory Bushfield and Paynter are friends and the two had discussed a plan to bring her ashes to the Winter Games in Sochi.
The Canadian Olympic Committee provided a glass container and Paynter carried the container in a leather holster with Burke’s name on it.
During a quiet moment on the first training day, Paynter was able to "poach a couple pipe laps."
"I know Sarah wanted to get some hits in the pipe so she got those," he said.
The freestyle skiers won seven medals in Sochi and the most by one sport on the Canadian team. Canada also won a pair of medals in ski cross and while the international governing body of skiing considers it a freestyle discipline, Alpine Canada administers it domestically as a speed sport.
Although the Canadian women finished off the podium in halfpipe, Mike Riddle of Sherwood Park, Alta., took silver in the first men’s event.
"She’d just be thrilled with everything from Mike winning a medal to the women just performing at such a high level," Paynter said.