Her smile told the story – beaming relentlessly in the glare of the stage lights as she looked out over the thousands gathered in Olympic Plaza. She stared down at her medal with a ‘pinch me, is this a dream?’ look.
Eight hours earlier the 28-year-old freeskier Brita Sigourney stood on the brink of a 22-foot superpipe for her third and final run. Her teammate and friend Annalisa Drew had just moved into bronze medal position, dropping Sigourney to fourth in a see-saw battle. On a day that was her sport’s finest hour, it was now all up to her. It was the drama only the Olympic Games could deliver.
PyeongChang was Sigourney’s second Olympic opportunity. Four years earlier, in her sport’s debut, she was second in qualfying, but sixth in the medals round.
“I didn’t realize what I really wanted at the Sochi Olympics,” she recalled. “I was just so happy and grateful to be there. I was in awe.”
Four years later, she came to PyeongChang older and wiser. But the reality of it all still hadn’t hit her. “I didn’t realize how much fire I would have this time around,” she said. “I really wanted it but I don’t think I realized that until I dropped in on my final run and thought: ‘I REALLY want this.’”
Desire is born at a young age. Sigourney had that desire. And she also had one of the most essential components of athletic success – a loving family with parents Thad and Julie who would pack the four kids in the car in Carmel, Calif. every weekend to make the 5-½ hour drive to Alpine Meadows at Lake Tahoe. And it was not lost on Sigourney who broke into tears as she honored her parents in front of fans at USA House.
“I was a weekend warrior – that’s all I knew growing up,” said Sigourney who never lived in a ski town until she moved to Park City six years ago.
But Sigourney also had team and pride of sport. Her hugs with Olympic champion Cassie Sharpe from Canada and silver medalist Marie Marod of Canada were heartfelt. “I just feel so proud and honored to be a part of this group of girls. It was such an inspiring competition. They put down the greatest runs I’ve ever seen in a halfpipe.”
And the feelings for her teammates were genuine. “We’ve been through a lot together – hard training days, good training days, good and bad competitions,” she reminisced. “I was there when Maddie won gold at the last Olympics and she was there for me today. She was so supportive. It’s just so touching and it makes you feel so much better when your teammates are there to back your success.”
As one of the new pioneers of freeskiing, her mind constantly touches back on her idol, the late Sarah Burke. Sigourney broke through with silver in her first X Games. Gold went to Burke. “To grow up with her and make my breakthrough on the scene with Sarah set the bar high for me.”
With a push from her poles she dropped into the pipe one last time to a straight air mute grab to an Alley Oop Japan. Then it was a Left 900 Tail Grab to an Alley Oop 540 Safety, closing with a Left 540 Mute and a Right 720 Mute – arms stretched out to the sky.
The judges agreed.
That evening as she was driven to yet one more television appearance on NBC, she had time to close her eyes with the Olympic medal in her hands. It was heavy with the weight of those years of dreaming and training. It had a special texture with nuances of design like the thousands of halfpipes she had ridden.
Most of all, she realized that this was no longer a dream. This was reality, the culmination of years of perseverance.
Brita Sigourney was an Olympic medalist.