When 225 Canadians follow the flag into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium Friday, Vancouver Island will have a particular rooting interest in five of them.
And we can probably thank Mount Washington and the explosion of modern X Game Olympic sport for that.
Four of five athletes with strong Island ties will be hurling their bodies over the snow in some of the games’ less-traditional disciplines and each of them began their love affair with the slopes on the North Island.
Born in Alert Bay, but growing up in Courtenay, O’Brien won slopestyle gold in Aspen in 2016 for her sixth career X Games medal, and gold in 2017 at a Dew Tour event in Breckenridge, Colo.
She placed 12th at the 2014 Sochi Games, where slopestyle made its Olympic debut.
The 30-year-old was taught to snowboard at age 11 by her father and sister and initially had no aspirations to be a professional rider but began competing because her sister did. From ages 12 to 15 she focused on halfpipe but was forced to give up the discipline when her local mountain stopped building a halfpipe. It was then she fell in love with slopestyle after spending a lot of time riding the park.
In 2008, O’Brien won bronze at the 20118 Winter X Games in Aspen and added a silver in 2009. in 2012, she won silver at the Winter X Games Europe followed b a bronze in Aspen in 2013. She ended the 2012-13 season ranked second in the World Snowboard Tour’s slopestyle standings. O’Brien was considered a top medal contender for Sochi 2014.
Another Comox-raised athlete, Cassie Sharpe, will be competing in the freestyle skiing halfpipe event for Team Canada.
Freestyle skiing is divided into five disciplines, four of which include a judged component as skiers are evaluated on their technical skills. Disciplines include moguls, aerials, halfpipe and slopestyle and ski cross.
Sharpe, who will compete in the halfpipe, will be evaluated by a panel of five judges, each scoring out of 100. Judges will evaluate each run on its overall impression, taking into account the amplitude and style as well as the diversity, difficulty and execution of the tricks. The judges’ scores are then averaged.
Sharpe, 25, who now lives in North Vancouver, won silver at the 2015 FIS World Championships and the her first World Cup gold medal a couple of weeks later in Tignes, France.
In January 2016, Sharpe made her X Games debut with a fourth-place finish in Aspen where she unknowingly competed with a stress fracture in her back that had occurred in December 2015. She went on to win X Games gold in Oslo, wearing a back brace to keep everything in place. Returning to Tignes, France in March 2017, Sharpe earned her second career World Cup victory.
She was the first woman to ever land a switch cork 720 in competition.
Already this year, Sharpe won gold at the Dew Tour and opened the 2017-18 World Cup season with a victory in Cardrona, New Zealand.
Twenty-one-year-old Teal Harle, who was born and raised in Campbell River, is also part of Canada’s freestyle skiing team.
Harle, who now lives in Whistler, won gold in slopestyle and big air at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George in 2015. He competed in his first FIS World Cup event in Silvaplana, Switzerland in March 2015 and two years later stood on the pudium there with is first World Cup medal. Harle claimed a second World Cup victory this year on January 21 at Mammoth Mountain, California.
Harle began skiing at six years old and learned about freestyle skiing when he was nine.
Comox snowboarder Carle Brenneman, 28, will compete in snowboard cross at the Olympics for Team Canada.
Brenneman has been a member of the national snowboard cross team since 2011 and was an alternate for the team at Sochi 2014. She achieved a career highlight in 2014 when she finished fifth at the Winter X Games in Aspen. In 2009, she made her World Cup debut at Cypress Mountain, competing at the official test event for Vancouver 2010.
She moved to the World Cup circuit full-time in the 2010-11 season, during which she posted her career-best result, finishing fifth in Arosa, Switzerland in March 2011.
More recently, Brenneman, through the 2016-17 season, had seven top 10 results on the World Cup. She was the top Canadian at the 2017 World Championships with her eighth place finish.
The Island-raised athlete began skiing at age three on Mount Washington. At age 15 she began snowboarding and the Olympic games have always been a dream of hers.
Our fifth Olympian is a little more removed from her Island roots, after growing up in Prince George and now living in Germany. But biathlete Megan Tandy was born in Victoria.
Biathlon incorporates cross-country skiing and rifle shooting and there are 11 different events.
Tandy, 29, competed in the Olympic Games in 2014 at Sochi where she was part of Canada’s best-ever eighth-place finish in the women’s relay. During the 2014-15 season, she broke into the top-15 in several World Cup races and had the most improved shooting percentage on the circuit.
A member of the World Cup team for most of the past decade, Tandy trains away from the national team in Ruhpolding, Germany.
The games will include 102 events across 15 sports with four new medal events introduced—big air snowboarding, mass start speed skating, mixed doubles curling and mixed team alpine skiing.
Although opening ceremonies will take place on Friday evening in Pyeongchang, some events get underway Thursday. And to confuse you even more, Pyeonchang is 17 hours ahead of Vancouver Island, so Friday evening translates to 3 a.m. our time.
The games wrap up on Feb. 25.
For a schedule of events, visit www.olympic.org.