Canadians help make history as ski mountaineering debuts at Youth Olympics
Canada's Ema Chlepkova and Findlay Eyre among 48 athletes in 1st 'skimo' event
VILLARS-SUR-OLLON, Switzerland —The emotion of the historic moment was evident Friday afternoon on the sun-splashed Villar Winter Park mountainside in Switzerland as 48 young women and men from around the world competed in the first-ever Youth Olympics ski mountaineering event.
The International Olympic Committee added the event to the Youth Olympic program in July 2017. The unique sport involves skiing uphill and downhill while passing through a series of checkpoints. Some sections of the course also require athletes to travel on foot, carrying their skis, and sometimes using other specialist equipment for steeper, icier ascents.
With hundreds of fans lining the 2,700-metre course, the women first set out to competition — 24 skiers including Canada's Ema Chlepkova.
Chlepkova, 16, is based in Calgary and is a part of the Canadian national ski mountaineering youth team. She crossed the finish line in a time of 1:10:10, placing 15th in the inaugural event.
"It's amazing. I'm so excited. The atmosphere is amazing," Chlepkova said after her race. "I was very happy. The hills were pretty steep and it was getting pretty slippery on one of the side because of the sun."
Leading up the event Chlepkova said she had a hard time sleeping, overwhelmed with excitement while competing in the Youth Olympics.
"I could barely sleep. I was laughing and crying at the same time," she said. "I'm really hoping more people will join this, especially juniors."
Watching it all from the bottom of the mountain was Ema's father, Matus. He was equally overwhelmed by the moment.
"It's incredible. This is the first time in history it's at an Olympic Games. Our athletes are putting Canada on the map," Matus said.
When asked what he said to his daughter when he first saw Ema after her race, Matus was lost for words.
"I was speechless. It's so good," Matus said, fighting back tears.
It was then time for the men to take to the challenging course as clouds rolled in and snow started falling.
Canada's Findlay Eyre set out on the mountain joined by 23 other competitors. After a strong first lap, Eyre ran into trouble during the second loop.
"I crashed after the second loop. My hip hurt a lot and I did lose a lot of time," he said after the race.
Findlay, also based in Calgary, finished in 21st but was thrilled to be part of history while competing in the first-ever ski mountaineering event. He was also proud of his resilience after crashing.
"All the energy here was awesome," Findlay said. "I think it just showed me how much I still have to grow and how much better I can get. The sky is the limit."
Swiss dominate the slopes
In front of a boisterous Swiss crowd, many clanging massive cowbells and waving flags, the hometown skiers delivered.
In the women's event, Switzerland's Caroline Ulrich captured gold and Thibe Deseyn grabbed silver.
After the race Ulrich talked about how winning Youth Olympic gold was a dream come true having grown up minutes from where the event took place.
"I know this mountain well. I have a chalet right over there," she said, pointing across the Villars Winter Park.
"I've come to ski here since my childhood so it's amazing to be here for this."
In the men's event, it was the Swiss twin brother duo of Robin and Thomas Bussard who sent the spectators into a frenzy as they crossed the finish line to again claim gold and silver, respectively, for Switzerland.
The crowd chanted wildly as the brothers made their way to speak to media.
"We battled each other the entire race and that motivated us," Thomas said. "This is beyond our wildest dreams. At home. We had pressure. So, this is a dream come true."
It marks a strong start to the Youth Olympics for the hosts and signals the beginning of ski mountaineering at the Games – something the youth athletes hope leads to ski mountaineering being added to the Olympics.
WATCH: Canada completes curling comeback victory over Russia:
Canada's mixed curling team opened with a 7-4 extra-end win over Russia.
Skip Nathan Young's rink scored one in the seventh and two in the eighth before counting three in the extra end.
Young, from Torbay, N.L., is joined by opening ceremony flag-bearer Lauren Rajala, Emily Deschenes and Jaedon Neuert.
In figure skating, Toronto's Brooke McIntosh and Brandon Toste of Mississauga, Ont., were fifth after the pairs short program.
Aleksa Rakic of New Westminster, B.C., was fourth after the men's short program.
In the men's Super-G, Louis Latulippe of Quebec City and Mackenzie Wood of Toronto finished 39th and 40th, respectively.
Alice Marchessault of Ste-Anne-des-Lacs, Que., did not finish the women's Super-G.
with files from Canadian Press