Justin Dorey underwent surgery to repair a nagging shoulder injury in January, 2013. A year later, he was competing for Olympic gold at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
His 12th-place finish wasn’t the result he had hoped for, especially since he led his ski halfpipe field after two qualifying runs, only to crash in the final, but the Olympic experience capped an already sensational comeback season for the 26-year-old Vernon native.
Like many of his fellow competitors, Dorey took a step back from training after the grueling season. Even with the extra time to reflect, he is still at a loss when it comes to describing his Olympic joyride.
“It was insane. I had no idea what I was in for,” Dorey told The Morning Star on a conference call earlier this month with Canadian freestyle team members Matt Riddle, Roz Groenewoud and coach Trennon Paynter.
“I still don’t really know how to describe it, but I’ll be a big fan of the Olympics for the rest of my life.”
And rather than sulk about his personal misfortune at the Games, Dorey instead rallied around his teammates and celebrated their success.
“It was really cool watching a lot of my best friends’ lives change forever,” said Dorey, who recently bought a house near Whistler. “Just watching how big of a deal that was, I was happy to be a part of it.”
He was also thrilled to be part of the historical debut of his sport at the Olympics.
“We’re very lucky, me and Mike and the rest of the team,” he said. “We came in at the time when the sport established itself. It’s definitely grown a lot. It’s been crazy.”
Dorey opened the 2014-15 halfpipe season earlier this month at the Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge, Colo. He didn’t reach the finals, but Riddle was ninth, and Whistler’s Simon d’Artois, another Canadian team member, was 11th.
On the women’s side, Groenewoud placed sixth.
With a slightly less hectic schedule this season, the Canadian team members have more time to replenish their arsenal of high-flying maneuvers.
“Having a little more time to work on new tricks is definitely different from last year,” said Riddle, a Sherwood Park, Alta. product who grabbed silver in Sochi behind American David Wise.
Added Dorey: “We have quite a few less contests this year, but we’re still going to be training quite a bit. We’ll have a lot of time to progress our runs.”
Riddle said he is working on something called a down-the-pipe flat 360, while Dorey plans on adding a switch flat-spin 360 to his aerial repertoire.
“It’s a simple trick, but it’s quite a bit different from anything I’ve ever done,” he said.
With a more relaxed competition schedule, Paynter is eager to see what his team can come up with to push the boundaries of freestyle skiing. Rather than place results-based expectations on his athletes, he wants them to simply keep building on what they achieved last season.
“We’re seeing a renewed focus,” said Paynter.
“They’ll have freedom to get a little more creative. These guys are getting out there and exploring ways of doing new things.
“There’s a lot of different ways things can go in our sport. I know where they’re at and what they’re capable of. They’re capable of achieving the best results they’ve already had.”
The Canadians held their first formal camp in New Zealand, in October. They’ll hold another one at the Canadian Olympic Park in Calgary as they prepare for Winter X Games, Jan. 22-25, in Aspen, Colo.
Groenewoud, a 23-year-old Calgary native who also competed in Sochi, welcomes the opportunity to train in Canada, especially her hometown.
“We spend very little time training in Canada so this is an opportunity,” she said.
Joining Dorey on the men’s halfpipe A Group (funded athletes) are Penticton’s Matt Margetts and Calgarians Kris Atkinson and Noah Bowman.