It was 10 years ago today that the criss-cross cauldron on the Vancouver waterfront burst into flames, signifying the start of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Over the following 17 days athletes accomplished remarkable feats, including a massive gold rush from the Canadian contingent, while spectators from near and far cheered and celebrated in a non-stop party.
In the middle of all the action was West Vancouver native Maëlle Ricker, who lived a moment few other athletes can even dream of – winning an Olympic gold medal in her hometown. On Feb. 16, 2010, Ricker survived a scare in qualifying for the snowboard cross event – she crashed on her first run but recovered to put up a good time in her second attempt – before ripping through the quarterfinals and semifinals to earn a spot in the four-woman final.
With gold on the line, Ricker burst out of the gates and didn’t look back, leading nearly from start to finish to become the first ever Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil.
This week the North Shore News caught up with Ricker to relive those moments and get her thoughts on Olympic glory 10 years after that golden achievement.
What was it like competing at home in an Olympic Games?
I loved it, from all the support of family and friends to the extra pressure of performing on home soil. I felt like there was no option but to win.
It’s so crazy to get the chance to compete at an Olympics in my own country. On top of that, the Games were in my home province, in West Vancouver where I grew up, and on the mountain that looms over top of the elementary and high schools I attended. It’s just a one in a billion chance that I can’t believe I got. Again ... I felt like the only thing to do was to succeed.
What was the fan support like for you?
Incredible. People were so supportive of not only the Canadian athletes but all athletes actually. I feel like everyone was so gracious, it is heartwarming to think about.
How do you feel about your performance?
My snowboarding was very far from perfect that day. I don’t even really like watching the final because I’m so critical of my riding there. But I also try to think of something Marnie McBean said about being able to win ugly sometimes, train so hard that even on your bad days you can still perform. The snow conditions on track in the morning were some of the worst I’ve ever ridden on. The second qualifying run after I fell on the first one was the single hardest run of my 20-plus years of racing. I’ve never felt nerves like that before or since then.
What moment from the 2010 Games is seared into your memory forever?
There were a lot of great moments, but the one I’ll single out is from the top of the course right before my big final heat. Everyone was so quiet. I could hear the wind ripple through the tree branches. It was eerie and you could cut the tension in the air with a knife. Then one of our coaches, Marcel from France, yelled at the top of his lungs with his great thick French accent from the start area behind me, “Come on Canada.” All the volunteers and course workers erupted in cheers. I put a little bit of snow on the back of my neck, gave my teammate Drew our good luck signal, gripped the handles in the gate, and took a deep breath. ... The starter then began the call for the final ... “Racers ready....”
What are you up to now?
I’m now co-head coaching the Canadian SBX team with my 2014 Olympic teammate Jake Holden. We work with a great group of people, such as Anthony Findlay from Level 10 Fitness, who also trained us when Jake and I competed. The athletes on the team are training hard and getting geared up for worlds next year and the Games in China in 2022. I also have a wonderful family life in Pemberton with my partner Eric and our daughter Tosca who is almost two years old now.
What advice would you give to aspiring Olympians?
Challenge yourself every day to do all the little things that don’t seem significant on their own. Be confident that all those little checked boxes accumulate for long-term improvement on a larger scale. ... And of course ... go fast, take chances.