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Olympians remembered one of their fallen comrades during the halfpipe finals on Thursday night.
Canadian Sarah Burke was honored in a fitting tribute as a formation of skiers created a heart on the snowy slope of Sochi, over two years after her death.
“She would be smiling down on the Olympic Games and everything that is going on around it. She is an inspiration, and she would absolutely be smiling,” Burke’s husband, Rory Bushfield, told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive interview before he left for the Olympics earlier this month.
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Burke was seriously injured in Jan. 2012 while training on a superpipe in Park City, Utah. While the accident didn’t appear too serious at the time, she went into cardiac arrest while still on the slope, causing “irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood.” After being placed into a medically induced coma, she died on Jan. 19 at age 29.
The women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe made its historic debut at the games on Thursday, and the woman who helped bring it there was not forgotten.
As they took to the podium, U.S. gold medal winner Maddie Bowman and silver meal winner Marie Martinod (from France) were among those who raised their arms to the sky to remember their lost friend.
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“Sarah Burke is watching over us tonight, and we just want to honor her as much as we can,” said Bowman, who names the four-times X Games champion as one of her biggest idols.
“It has been an incredibly emotional and fulfilling day seeing Sarah’s dream come to fruition,” friend Nicole Wool expressed after witnessing the tribute.
Bushfield, who made the emotional trip to Sochi with Sarah’s parents, Jan Phelan and Gordon Burke, predicted that “the halfpipe would be a memorable time for all involved.
“It is pretty obvious in everybody’s mind that it is there because of [and a lot of other reasons] Sarah’s hard work and effort, in many different aspects, from skiing to lobbying, to just knowing and befriending the right people,” he told THR.
“She was a lobbyist when no one was supporting the event. They needed to have a halfpipe World Cup circuit before it could even be considered in three Olympics. And when that was going on, a lot of halfpipe skiers who were any good — me included — boycotted it because we thought it would be regimented like mogul skiing, and we didn’t want anything to do with that,” he explained.
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“But Sarah supported them because she saw the road to the Olympics. She made sure the sport wasn’t going to have restrictions like mogul skiing — which is an awesome sport but is just restricted, as there are a lot of things you are not allowed to do because of the strict control,” Bushfield explained.
“The opportunity to go to the Olympics is pretty incredible,” he added.
Fellow skiers Rory and Sarah were married in Sept. 2010 in Pemberton, British Columbia, and despite the lasting loss, Rory told THR: “I am pretty at peace with what happened and the way things are.
“I think I am going to be able to go and enjoy it and watch my friends compete in the Olympics and watch all of Sarah’s hard work. Just to support it personally for myself and to enjoy it,” he said before the games began.
Jan and Gordon (below) were joined by Wool (left) and ESPN the Magazine senior writer Alyssa Roenigk on Thursday. “What an incredible night for women’s freeskiing,” said Roenigk.
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