Vernon athletes in Olympic spotlight
So close for Kevin Hill.
Closer, still, for Justin Dorey.
Both Vernon athletes were in the hunt but both were denied in their quest for Olympic medals on the slopes in Sochi, Russia Tuesday.
Dorey, 25, ended up 12th in the first-ever Olympic men’s ski halfpipe event, despite finishing in first place after two qualifying runs with the high score of 91.60.
Dorey appeared to be on his way to a potential gold-medal-winning score in his first of two runs in the final when his skis caught the edge of the halfpipe wall on a landing and he crashed, picking up a score of 20.40 which would be his top score for the final.
“To see him qualifying first was amazing,” said Neil Sawatzky, an employee at Vernon’s Olympia Cycle and Ski – owned by Dorey’s father, Peter – where 15 friends gathered to watch Dorey in the final Tuesday morning (Peter was captured on TV waving to the camera).
“In the final competition, he had the best run going and unfortunately didn’t quite pull it off. That’s halfpipe skiing. You go big or you go home.”
Dorey had a chance to reach the podium with his second run but stumbled on a jump and lost some speed due to the slushy conditions.
“It was amazing to see his journey,” said Silver Star program director Wade Garrod, among those gathered at Olympia, who watched Dorey as a member of the Silver Star Freestyle Club when Dorey was starting the sport in around 2000.
“When he started the sport it wasn’t even a dream because freestyle halfpipe wasn’t even in the Oympics. But now, to have the opportunity to go to the Olympics, to qualify first and up his game for the second run...it’s a risk no matter what. If he laid it down I guarantee he would have won. To see that effort, the blood, sweat and tears, is a good experience.”
American David Wise won the gold, Mike Riddle of Sherwood Park, Alta., the 2011 world champion, took the silver and France’s Kevin Rolland captured bronze.
Hill, 27, was on his way to a berth in the final of the men’s snowboard cross when a Spanish competitor clipped Hill’s board at the end of a jump and both went crashing out of contention.
Hill had been in second place at the time in his semifinal, where the top three advanced.
He finished second in the small final to end up in eighth place overall.
“I raced my heart out for Canada today and did everything I could to get a medal,” Hill tweeted on his Twitter account. “My day ended in a crash in the semi finals in second place. I finished second in the small final for eighth place at the Olympics! Thanks so much for everyone’s support.”
His family was screaming their support at their Vernon home.
“We were happy he wasn’t hurt, more so than his face which took a beating,” laughed his sister, Shanda, through a hoarse voice, the result of yelling her encouragement to her brother on the television.
“Everybody that watched Kevin raced knows that he could have been on the podium. He had it in him. He was racing like his heart was totally in it and he wanted it so bad.
“We’re sad he crashed, really happy he’s OK, and really happy he didn’t make any errors. There was nothing he could have done to avoid what happened.”
Hill was the lone Canadian out of four to reach the semifinals.
Pierre Vaultier of France took home the gold medal, Nikolay Olyunin of Russia – who took the semifinal Hill was in – won silver and Alex Deibold of the U.S. grabbed the bronze.
The event was pushed back a day due to heavy fog, with officials modifying the format to cancel the seedings run and go straight to the elimination rounds.
More than 125 of Hill’s friends and family had gathered at Monashee’s Bar and Grill Sunday night to watch Hill’s Olympic debut.
Hill will return to the Okanagan on Tuesday, Feb. 25 with a flight landing at 12:30 p.m. at Kelowna Airport. Anybody that wants to greet Hill at the airport is welcome.