Dara Howell grabs the gold in the inaugural running of women’s slopestyle at Sochi

As women’s slopestyle was a sport that late Canadian ski legend Sarah Burke worked so tirelessly to bring into the Winter Games fold, it was only fitting that a Canadian earned the first gold in the event. With the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park serving as the backdrop for the newest chapter in women’s competition at the Winter Games, Dara Howell won Canada’s fourth overall gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Hailing from Huntsville, Ontario, she would grab the gold in the inaugural slopestyle ski competition with a score of 94.20 during her first run. Fellow Canadian Kim Lamarre won the bronze, scoring 85.00 on the second run, while American Devin Logan obtained the silver. All three have made a memorable mark in Sochi as this titanic trio signifies the first medalists in the history for the event.

Silver medalist Devin Logan (L) of the USA, Gold medalist Dara Howell of Canada and Bronze medalist Kim Lamarre of Canada celebrate their achievements in the womenÕs ski slopestyle after receiving their medals at the Medals Plaza in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, February 11, 2014. Photo by Jean Levac/Postmedia News

Silver medalist Devin Logan (L) of the USA, Gold medalist Dara Howell of Canada and Bronze medalist Kim Lamarre of Canada celebrate their achievements in the womenÕs ski slopestyle after receiving their medals at the Medals Plaza in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, February 11, 2014. Photo by Jean Levac/Postmedia News

Previously stating that she was hoping a Canadian would win the gold medal, it almost happened that Canada could have swept the podium. Considering other Canadian competitors finished in fourth and fifth place, Logan’s acrobatic run prevented the sweep.

At only 19 years old, Howell certainly represents the promising future of the sport. Although it may take time to absorb what has transpired, there is no question that Howell has earned herself a place in the hearts and minds of Canadian sports fans. Dedicating her victory to Sarah Burke, it signified a tremendous growth as a competitor and as a person.

Photo credit: MIKE EHRMANN/GETTY IMAGES

Photo credit: MIKE EHRMANN/GETTY IMAGES

Friends and family gathered at the Muskoka Ski Club to watch the event on television. Rounds of applause, cheers of celebration and tears of joy defined the gathering as a homegrown talent made worldwide headlines. Victory celebrations for Howell upon her return home include skiing with her 99-year-old grandfather.

Dara Howell, centre, celebrates after winning gold at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Fellow medalists include Devin Logan and Kim Lamarre. (AP / Andy Wong)

Dara Howell, centre, celebrates after winning gold at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Fellow medalists include Devin Logan and Kim Lamarre. (AP / Andy Wong)

Despite the jubiliation of Howell’s victory, there was also desolation among her fellow Canadian competitors. Yuki Tsubota of Whistler, BC had to be removed from the course on a stretcher with a severe jaw injury. With a very slushy course, she missed her third jump as she slid down the hill in pain.

Montreal’s Kaya Turski, whose innovative surgery provided her with the chance to make her Winter Games dream come true, fell twice in qualifying. In one crash, she separated her shoulder. While she valiantly popped it back into place, her status as a medal favorite quickly evaporated afterwards. Gracious in defeat, she congratulated her Canadian teammates on social media.

Kaya Turski continues remarkable comeback with gold at X-Games

One of the most remarkable comebacks in recent Canadian sporting history belongs to Kaya Turski. Experimental surgery on her torn anterior cruciate ligament in August resulted in a recovery that found her back on the slopes less than five months afterwards. Having suffered the injury in August 2013, during an attempt to practice a new move in Mount Hood, Oregon, her left knee is part of a unique medical innovation. Of note, her left knee now has a synthtetic ligament wrapped inside a cadaver graft.

Considering that she has once endured having torn ACLs in both legs, it resulted in a year-long recovery for Turski. As the native from Montreal was looking towards making her Winter Games true, the experimental surgery was the only option. With ligaments from both her hamstrings having been used in the first two ACL reconstructions, that option could not be attempted again.

Dr. Robert Litchfield employed a hybrid option with the use of the synthetic ligament and cadaver graft. While the long-term stability of the knee is unknown, she is healthy enough to compete. For Dr. Litchfield, this innovation may be as impactful for skiers as Tommy John surgery was for baseball players. As he will be in Sochi as the doctor for Canada’s alpine ski team, he will be on-hand for support.

Archiving the recovery on video tape, it would prove to be a therapeutic release for Turski, who never gave up on a quick recovery. Providing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation with the footage, it certainly helped put into perspective the remarkable sacrifices that athletes can make in order to pursue their dreams.

Her heroic efforts culminated with a gold medal in Aspen, Colorado at the 2014 X-Games in the women’s ski slopestyle, finishing ahead of American Maggie Voisin and Canadian Kim Lamarre. Of note, Dara Howell from Huntsville, Ontario finished in fourth place. Travelling with a physical therapist, it provided a feeling of confidence as she looks to duplicate her success at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

After the injury she sustained in August, it was doubtful if she would even be part of the conversation at Sochi. Considering that she made history in the ski slopestyle by perfectly executing a 1080 in past competition, the thought of her not being part of the sports’ historic debut at Sochi was not in her lexicon.

As the slopestyle events (which feature skiing and snowboarding) were introduced into the Winter Games as a means of attracting younger viewers and traditional X-Games fans, fans are relieved that one of its most successful stars shall be part of its launch. The proud owner of eight X-Games gold medals, the native of Montreal is also the 2013 World Skislope Champion. Her resolve and ability to overcome such a potentially disheartening setback makes her a sentimental favorite heading into the world’s biggest sporting stage.