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Olympic gold has two sides: bright and dark

Weeks after Cassie Sharpe soared above the halfpipe to win gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics, she found herself in a drugstore in Vancouver feeling a little uneasy .

“I was wearing my Team Canada jacket and the pharmacist almost laughed at me — ‘Oh, are you a team member?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah,'” Sharpe said, recalling that story at the launch of the team’s uniform for the Beijing Games next month.

“Did you go to the Olympics? How did you do?” He asked.

“I had a few funny encounters (like this) where people didn’t believe me and I happened to have the medal with me,” she said with a big smile.

But there were also times after the last Olympics that were darker; moments when Sharpe felt like she was lost under the gold medal, rather than lifted by it.

“I had a little identity crisis after Pyeongchang. I felt like people wanted to see the medal and not me,” she said in an interview this month. Long time it was Cassie Sharpe, Olympic gold medalist. It wasn’t Cassie Sharpe, his sister, his wife, his momma dog, all those other things that I know I am. It was like I didn’t only had one ID tag.

“I’m enjoying the medal like crazy, but it’s definitely a strange thing for Olympians. But you work on it, you understand it.

A gold medal is the prize that every Olympic athlete dreams of winning. They train long, hard hours, put much of their lives on hold and, unless they are incredibly lucky, suffer injuries, surgeries and difficult comebacks in hopes of reaching the highest step of the podium on the biggest sports stage in the world. .

For a Canadian, that comes with a $20,000 performance bonus from the Canadian Olympic Committee and a vast increase in marketing opportunities. This helps retain existing sponsors and find new, more lucrative ones. Sharpe’s sponsors range from Monster Energy to Audi and Lululemon. More recently, she joined Sobey’s Feed the Dream campaign.

But the less tangible benefits are not the same for all athletes.

Sebastien Toutant won his first professional snowboarding competition when he was just 13, but it took winning an Olympic gold medal for most people outside of the sport to begin to understand that snowboarding can be a real career.

“When I would talk to people and say I’m a pro snowboarder, most people would be like, ‘That’s cool, but what’s your main job?'”

Winning big air gold at the 2018 Winter Games changed that conversation. He says more people are taking him seriously now.

“Everyone knows about the Olympics,” Toutant said. “What has really changed the most is the way people see me. They see me as someone who has really achieved something huge that not many people are able to actually achieve.

For speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen, gold in the long track 10,000 meters had a more personal effect. It was a source of pride and vindication after leaving the Netherlands to compete for Canada. He still remembers that race as an “epic showdown” against the best. “I am very proud of what I have achieved.”

Four years ago, Canadians won 29 medals — the most medals in the country for a Winter Games — with 11 gold medals, second only to 2010 in Vancouver. This time, sports data analytics firm Gracenote predicts 22 medals – the fewest since 2002 in Salt Lake City – and just six gold medals. Of the 2018 Olympic champions set to compete again in Beijing, Gracenote has picked just one – moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury – to repeat.

Of course, predicting who will win medals and what color at a global event that takes place every four years is inherently difficult. The pandemic has made this even more difficult. COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions have disrupted all sports and could still wreak havoc on starting lists in Beijing.

As Sharpe says: “COVID is the most stressful thing about qualifying for the Olympics. Hope we keep our bubble tight enough that no one tests positive, but it’s just the most contagious thing you can’t see. How the hell can you completely avoid that?

As stressful as the Omicron variant proves to be in the final weeks before the Games, Sharpe has already faced and overcome an even greater challenge just to qualify for a return to the Olympic halfpipe.

Last January, en route to a silver medal at the X Games in Aspen, Colorado, she landed a 1260 – a round with 3 1/2 spins – for the first time, but caught an edge and tore her ligaments. his left knee.

For a skier, coming back from knee surgery is a physical and mental challenge. The second part is often the most difficult.

“Physically, I feel super strong; mentally it’s a little bit different,” Sharpe said.

She’s had to learn to believe that her repaired knee will hold up when she lands or falls and catches up to the international peloton in this ever-advancing sport. She hasn’t had much time for either of those things, only returning to training and competition in the final months of 2021.

Growing up on the slopes of Mount Washington on Vancouver Island, where her father worked, she was known for pushing halfpipe skiing – for navigating over the pipe and pulling off tricky tricks that, at the last Olympics , few women even tried.

So last time, we expected her to win. This time around, it’s a 29-year-old skier in a recovery season against teenagers who are improving day by day.

“It’s super cool to see them come out and push the sport,” Sharpe said, “(but) it’s been kind of hard to feel like I’m not enough right now.”

The World Cup race in Calgary on New Year’s Day, where she finished just behind the podium in fourth place, was a major confidence boost. And by sticking around to train this month, she feels even better about where she will be at Games time.

“I have a chance to (get) on the podium in Beijing,” she said. “I’m going there as a gold medalist, but I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I might not leave 2022 as a gold medalist.

“I’m excited to go out there and be me and have the best race I can and then come home and continue to be me. I’m just trying to keep it all in perspective and allow myself to be proud of myself no matter the outcome.

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