WEST VANCOUVER – Kristi Richards may have fallen on the Olympic stage but that didn’t stop her blue eyes and smile from shining brighter than the television lights that shone down on Cypress Mountain Saturday evening.
The Summerland native had a spill halfway down the course in Saturday’s final of the freestyle skiing women’s moguls at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games that ruined her medal hopes. American Hannah Kearney kiboshed the coronation of Canadian Jennifer Heil by edging out the Spruce Grove, Alta., skier for first place and delaying for at least one day Canada’s seemingly never-ending search for Olympic gold on True North soil.
Richards, 28, came out of the gate flying. She executed a daring first jump and then attacked the moguls aggressively. But then all of a sudden her feet came out from underneath her and she sprawled across the course eventually coming to a stop.
“I just wasn’t able to get it back under control. It picked up pretty quick in there, more than I expected and I just had a hard time keeping my feet,” said Richards, who has been a national team member for eight years.
She picked herself up slowly, put one of her skis back on and then stopped a few seconds to compose herself while the packed crowd – troopers considering the wet and foggy conditions – gave her a big ovation. She told herself, “OK, finish my run. Back full (her final jump), what do I have to do? Get the arms out. Be patient.”
Finally, Richards, who was seventh at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy and won the 2007 world championship, went back at the moguls and then nailed the back full in spectacular fashion. But by then, she was done, officially finishing 20th.
“I’ve been working on that trick for four years, so I’m so happy to have been able to have stuck it out here,” said Richards of the second jump. “Unfortunately, I had to have it with a crash, but I’m really proud of myself. I pushed my limit, I did everything I could to be in the best place possible.
“I know my friends and family were here and they were excited to see that jump.”
That they were, because while wrapping up interviews they were yelling at her, “Way to go, Kristi.”
But despite her success with the jump, her smile and her shining eyes, having her Olympic dreams wiped out in a nanosecond did hurt.
“That’s the hard thing about sport, especially our sport. It’s such a split second and I really thought I had it in the middle section. I was on the edge, but I thought I had it. I just missed a bit of a full plant and couldn’t get it back,” said Richards, who is hooked up with the Adopt-An-Athlete program with her former school, Summerland Middle.
The funny thing about Cypress Mountain for Richards, however, is the last time she competed here she wiped out in the same section and was so upset she cried for an hour.
Earlier in the day, it appear Richards had exorcized those demons by easily qualifying for the final with a fourth-place finish as the skiers battled windy and wet conditions. She trailed only Kearney, Heil and American Heather McPhie, who also wiped out in the final during the run that followed the one by Richards.
The Canadian crowd collectively held its breath as Kearney came down the hill following Heil’s excellent run. But Kearney was just five hundredths of a second faster and her style points were better beating Heil 26.63 to 25.69. So Heil had to settle for silver and Canada had to wait another day for its first gold on home soil after failing to win one at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.
“I did what I wanted to do and I’m really proud,” said Heil, who came into the event ranked No. 1 in the world while Richards was fifth. “I felt like I was standing on the shoulders of so many Canadians. I felt like had their wings on my back. This is Canada’s medal.”
Another American, Shannon Bahrke got the bronze while 18-year-old Chloé Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal was fifth.
Despite all the wet weather wreaking havoc with Cypress Mountain, organizers were able to put together a course. It was a long ribbon of white bursting like a beacon amidst the brown dirt and rock on each side. There was just a small mist falling, but spectators and athletes alike had to deal with some winds that kept everyone bundled up.