PYONGCHANG, South Korea — The night before she won gold in her Olympic debut, Cassie Sharpe didn’t sleep all that well. It wasn’t because she was hours away from her first-ever Olympic final, and it wasn’t because she was feeling extra nervous, either.
“Those beds are rocks,” the 25-year-old said, grinning, of the mattresses in the athlete’s village. Still, Sharpe managed to log a solid eight hours—“I love sleeping,” she added — and then she went to the Phoenix Snow Park on Tuesday morning and continued one of the most dominant performances we’ve seen from a Canadian at these Games.
From start to finish, in five runs over two days, the skier from Comox, B.C., led the women’s freestyle halfpipe event. Sharpe’s first run in the three-run final was good enough to earn her the gold medal, but she went ahead and punctuated the victory with her second rip down the pipe, earning a score of 95.80, more than three points higher than silver medallist, Marie Martinod of France.
As she looked down the halfpipe ahead of her gold medal run, Sharpe, dressed in a red Canada jacket and wearing a mouth guard with a gold maple leaf on it, bobbed her head along with M.O.P’s ‘Ante Up.’ Then she threw hers down, full of major air-time and corks and flares and turns and even something called a “truck driver,” tricks that made the crowd go “Oooh.” Sharpe figured it would be good enough to win, and it was.
Her gold is Canada’s seventh of these Games, and it came not long after Justin Kripps and Alex Kopacz won on the bobsleigh track a night earlier and not long before Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir earned the country’s eighth on ice on Tuesday afternoon. It’s been quite a run for Canada: Three gold medals in the span of about 15 hours.
Sharpe’s win was seemingly never in doubt. Her boyfriend, Justin Dorey — a former national team skier who grinned and said he’s “living vicariously through her” — said Sharpe expected to be leading this thing from start to finish. “Yeah,” Dorey said, standing among a contingent of eight Sharpe supporters, including her mother, who was in tears. “Everybody expected this.”
Sharpe was right where she wanted to be on Tuesday morning: The clubhouse leader, so to speak, last up in the competition.
“A lot of girls don’t like it, but I like it because I can watch what everyone else does and be at the top and know that I’ve won or that I really need to push it,” she said. “Being at the top, I didn’t really realize how emotional it was going to be to have that victory run.”
It only hit her, really, because her coach, Trennon Paynter, who she calls emotionally “stone cold,” started to tear up at the top of the halfpipe.
Sharpe was seated at a press conference, in between Martinod and American bronze medallist Brita Sigourney, while telling this story. “When Marie fell — sorry, l love you,” Sharpe said, rubbing Martinod’s arm, “ I knew that I won.” That’s when Penner came over and told Sharpe: “I’m going to cry on national television.”
“At that point I’m like, ‘Oh my god, stop hugging me because I’m going to cry and I need to focus and reel in,’” Sharpe said. And while she nailed a monster trick to start that victory lap, she fell soon after, though she recovered and finished with another big one “for the crowd,” she said.
“Obviously I didn’t reel into it very well,” Sharpe added. “But not winning that victory run is miniscule compared to my second run.”
Yes, the second run was the one she’d been working on, and she nailed it, finishing off with a left cork 10. “I feel like I grabbed every trick and I went big and it’s definitely a run I’m really proud of,” Sharpe said. Sigourney went even further: she called Sharpe and Martinod’s runs the best she’d ever seen.
Sigourney, who’s 28, came up in this sport when it was led by pioneer Sarah Burke, the Canadian who died tragically in a ski accident back in 2012. It’s Burke who inspired Sharpe and many of the athletes here. Sigourney recalled coming second to Burke at a competition, which she said was better than winning.
“Cassie has come up during my career as well,” the American said. Sigourney remembers seeing the Canadian for the first time in competition, not too long ago. “I had no idea where she came from, but all the sudden there was this girl doing massive flares, and she’s progressed so much since she came on, so that’s been awesome to watch.”
Sharpe looked over at Sigourney, “Thank you,” she said. “That’s really nice.”
This press conference was fun to watch, because you could see the camaraderie between these women. Before it began, Martinod, a veteran in this sport whose hair was blue in areas, started to sing into the mic, like so: “Wicki-wicki-pow-pow-wicki-wicki…”
“You can put us in a half pipe, but you can’t take us out,” Sharpe said, laughing, after catching the performance on video. Martinod then urged reporters to ask plenty of questions, because she had to go through doping control but didn’t need to pee yet. At one point, Sharpe asked Martinod a question of her own: “What are you gonna do after your contest in France?” Martinod’s answer: Drink champagne.
When it was over, they took a photo of their nails, which were all painted different colours. Sharpe’s are appropriately painted gold, which is the colour she wears for each competition.
Four years ago, around this time, she was at a competition in Aspen, awake extra early so she could watch the event she’d later go on to win. “Was I expecting a dominant performance?” Sharpe asks. “Maybe not so much those words, but I was expecting a consistent and clean performance.” Well, it was also dominant.
Sharpe’s resume includes an X-Games gold, a world championship silver and an X-Games bronze she won earlier this year, with a broken thumb. This gold medal puts her in the household name category, however, because of the stage. Her medal is even bigger because it’s an historic first for Canada in this event, which debuted four years ago.
If you hadn’t heard of Sharpe before, well, you’ve been introduced.
To start the press conference, Canada’s seventh gold medallist here leaned into the mic, wearing a Canada zip-up and a Canada toque.
“Hello, I’m Cassie,” Sharpe said, with a smile. “I’m stoked.”