KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — The lasting image of freestyle skiing pioneer Sarah Burke is her ever-present smile, the one that helped inspire kids across Canada to slap on their skis and open their minds.
In an event that Burke's extraordinary vision helped bring to the Olympics, Dara Howell channeled her idol's style.
Mouth agape after a spectacular run on slush more suited for a snowcone, Howell continued Canada's dominance at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park by soaring to gold as women's slopestyle skiing made a sometimes inauspicious Olympic debut.
"I said the other day that I really hope a Canadian brings home a gold medal and it will be for Sarah," Howell said. "This medal is definitely for Sarah. She pushed the sport."
Burke died in 2012 at age 29 following an accident while training on the halfpipe.
A charismatic and accomplished performer and one of the key players in expanding freestyle skiing's role in the Olympics, she served as a role model to a large swath of the Canadian freestyle team, including the 19-year-old who found herself atop a podium on Tuesday.
"She always wanted to see the progression," Howell said. "To see the girls throwing what the guys were throwing ... today I feel like that's what I did."
Howell unleashed a switch-900 — an off-axis spin that includes 2 ½ rotations — during a run that finished with a score of 94.20, trouncing the rest of the field on a warm and sometimes frightening day.
Devin Logan of the United States took silver. Kim Lamarre earned bronze to give Canada seven medals in four days of snowboarding and freestyle skiing, including three events in which they took two of the three spots on the podium.
"We're over the moon right now," said Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association. "Our target was to get six total — and we still have a few events left."
Howell's triumph was tempered by a series of frightening crashes, including one by teammate Yuki Tsubota. That ended with Tsubota being carried off the mountain on a stretcher with a possible fractured jaw. Russian Anna Mirtova wiped out during both of her final runs and said she's heading for knee surgery.
"It was tough conditions," Lamarre said. "It's not easy for speed on slushy snow. You can't always be perfect and land everything."
Continue reading this story on the...