Olympic memories: Maëlle Ricker makes history on Cypress Mountain

My favourite story as a North Shore News sports reporter also very nearly gave me a heart attack.

We all know that West Vancouver snowboard legend Maëlle Ricker claimed gold at Cypress Mountain in 2010, becoming the first Canadian woman ever to earn an Olympic title on home soil. The story, of course, was front page news in our paper the next day.

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What readers don’t know, however, was that the story almost didn’t make it onto the page. It wasn’t quite a “stop the presses!” moment, but it was as close as I’ve ever come.

As a relative newbie on the sports reporting scene back in 2010, I wasn’t able to secure one of the much-coveted but hard-to-come-by media accreditations for the Games. That forced me to get a bit creative with the coverage, catching what I could from TV broadcasts and adding colour from sources on the scene. 

Ricker was dominant in snowboard cross in the years leading up to the Games, making her one of the favourites coming into the competition. It didn’t start out well, however, as some bad weather made the course treacherous for the morning qualifying runs and Ricker crashed on her first time trial. Then the weather got worse, and there was debate about whether or not they should skip the second round of qualifying altogether and just go straight to the final, a move which would have bumped Ricker out of the race for gold.

Eventually the second qualifying runs were held and Ricker blasted to the third best time of the day. That on-course delay, however, not only caused stress for Ricker but also for our news staff, as we were now pushing up hard against our mid-afternoon print deadline for the Wednesday paper. Any more delays and the story would have been too late to get in the paper, leaving a big hole on our front page.

Ricker held up her end of the bargain though, and the gold medal final was glorious.

I know reporters are supposed to be unbiased, but there was a massive roar and even a few tears in the newsroom when our local star flew off that final jump and landed a spot in the history books.

But now the pressure was really on – 20 minutes until our drop-dead deadline. Gah! I quickly called two contacts on the mountain: fellow North Shore Olympic snowboarder Drew Neilson, who was stationed up at the starting gate to help Ricker get the jump on the competition, and team trainer Anthony Findlay, who was at the bottom watching with the crazed Canadian fans.

Neilson described the peculiar “Deerfield Posse Sign” that he and Ricker exchanged just before the race, an homage to a North Vancouver apartment called The Deerfield that Neilson once shared with Ricker and other friends.

“You take your right hand and you pound your chest, you pound your heart, and then you put the horns on your head,” Neilson told me about their cute little pseudo gang sign.

Meanwhile Findlay had a hard time describing exactly what he’d seen at the bottom of the course.

“I couldn’t [see]; I was crying,” he said. “She is the best in the world – she proved that today.”

Great quotes! And now, time to write! I’ve never typed so fast. With editors breathing fire down my neck, I had just enough time to throw in a probably-too-cheeky lede (“West Vancouver native Maëlle Ricker moved a mountain yesterday”) and get that thing on the page and out the door before getting strangled by the people running the printing press. 

To this day I still get chills anytime I watch that race and hear announcer Jamie Campbell scream “Here in Vancouver, Maëlle Ricker’s Olympic dreams have come true!”

I felt honoured to share the story with our readers, even if it left me in a quivering puddle following those frantic few minutes. It was a golden North Shore sporting moment we’ll not soon forget.

Reporter Andy Prest took over the sports beat soon after joining the North Shore News in 2007. This story was included in our 50th Anniversary Issue, published Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. Click here for more stories from this special edition of the North Shore News.

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