Vancouver Island slopes gain new lustre with skier's freestyle gold

Gold medal for skier from "not the biggest mountain in British Columbia" shows individuals can excel no matter where they come from, Mount Washington sports director says.

Comox-raised gold medallist proves 'no matter where you come from, there’s an opportunity'

Canada's Cassie Sharpe celebrates her gold medal win following the women's ski halfpipe at the Olympics in Pyeongchang. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

On the heels of her gold-medal performance this week, Vancouver Island freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe is rumoured to be among the Canadian athletes being considered as a potential flag-bearer for Sunday's closing ceremonies. 

Sharpe dominated the women's halfpipe Tuesday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where no other competitor topped her best two runs.

For Mike Manara, the director of sports for Mount Washington Alpine Resort near Comox, B.C. — where Sharpe grew up on the slopes — her achievement demonstrates the potential for athletes to excel outside the major sports training centres.

"Being somebody from a small town and maybe not the biggest mountain in British Columbia," Manara told On the Island's Khalil Akhtar, "it just shows that no matter where you come from there's an opportunity, if you put your mind to it, to succeed and do quite well."

Sharpe was one of four Vancouver Island athletes on the Canadian ski and snowboard team at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

They included women's snowboard cross athlete Carle Brenneman, men's freestyle skier Teal Harle, and snowboarder Spencer O'Brien.

O'Brien was raised in Alert Bay and Courtenay and developed her skills at Mount Cain and Mount Washington.

Canada's Spencer O'Brien finished in 9th place in the big air final in Pyeongchang. (Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA-EFE)

She placed ninth in the inaugural Olympic women's snowboard big air final on Thursday in Pyeongchang, scoring a combined 113.25 points over her three runs.

Manara said O'Brien's result wasn't surprising because she acknowledged she was struggling a bit before the final.

"At the same time, too, I think she's got a great story," he said.

"The level of competition she competes in is quite extreme, so you're going to have some days when you're going to be maybe sitting a little higher and some a little lower, but for the debut in this event I think she did a heck of a job."

Manara said discussions are underway in Comox about plans for a celebration to welcome Sharpe back from Pyeongchang.

Sharpe will have 'huge impact' on sport

He counts himself lucky that he was able to follow Sharpe's progress as she grew up around Mount Washington, working her way through different levels of competition and overcoming a "fair share" of injuries.

"She may not quite realize it yet, but she's done so much for women and sport, putting the halfpipe on the main stage," Manara said.

"Some of those younger people, once they realize the magnitude of what she's done, I think it will have a huge impact."


With files from CBC Radio One'sOn the Island.