Maelle Ricker announces end to historic snowboard career
West Vancouver racer 1st Canadian woman to win Olympic gold medal on home soil
Her mind was pointing towards racing this season but Maelle Ricker's body simply wouldn't allow it.
So the time has come for the West Vancouver, B.C., snowboarder to put an end to her magnificent career.
Ricker, who in 2010 became the first Canadian woman to win Olympic gold on home soil, made her retirement official Wednesday.
She has comes to terms with the finality of it all, though it wasn't easy.
She injured her knee in pre-season last year and attempted to rehab it before opting for surgery in February, hoping the "cartilage and arthritic issues," would heal. But as the summer rolled into September, Ricker knew her competitive days were over.
"My emotions changed by the minute," she admitted to CBCSports.ca. "It went from being really sad, to having heartache, to being exciting for a new chapter. But ultimately it was undeniable relief."
Born in North Vancouver, the 36-year-old veteran leaves the sport of snowboard cross as one of its greatest competitors, capturing Olympic, X Games and world titles during a career spanning three decades.
She began in 1996 and was progressing up the ladder as she competed at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, placing fifth in the halfpipe event. While an injury forced her to miss the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, she was expected to leave her mark four years later in Turin, Italy, where women's snowboard cross was making its debut.
The plan didn't work out the way Ricker had envisioned. She crashed in the final and suffered concussion. It was also one of the most bizarre races she's ever been involved in. Her teammate, Dominique Maltais, also fell but recovered to win bronze.
American Lindsey Jacobellis appeared headed for gold, but a last-minute tumble allowed Swiss snowboarder Tanja Frieden to power through and win.
"It was kind of a one-in-a-million type race in the way it unfolded," said Ricker, laughing while recalling the final.
Memorable moment in Vancouver
The failure in Italy didn't dampen Ricker's resolve. The Vancouver Olympics were only four years away. The biggest event of her life was in her own backyard and she soaked in the uniqueness of the opportunity.
Ricker didn't disappoint.
She took the lead from the start and never relinquished it, becoming the first Canadian woman in any sport to win Olympic gold on home soil.
"One of the fondest memories I have from that time was setting my hands on the gate before that final run and it was very quiet at the start, and then my coach yelled "come on, Canada," she said.
"To have the chance to compete at the Games and have it in your home country, and really in your backyard from where you went to school, it was like a lottery ticket. It doesn't really hit you and you're a little bit on cloud nine. It took a long time to sink in. It was a bit surreal."
Ricker broke her arm two weeks before the 2014 Sochi Olympics but considers her time in Russia as a highlight simply because she was able to recover in time to compete.
As for her future, Ricker intends to help the Canadian team this season, with coaching a distinct possibility beyond 2016.
"I still want to be a part of the team and give back and watch these younger athletes flourish," said Ricker.
"I don't have an exact title or label for it at this time. I'm there as an asset and to be able to transfer my experience to the younger generation. It's definitely what I'm looking at exploring into. My vision is set in that direction."