January 19th 2014 marks the 2 year anniversary of the day Sarah Burke passed away. With the Winter Olympics right around the corner, when all of Sarah’s freeskiing comrades will head to Russia, we‘d like to honor what Sarah did to make that possible. Sure, Sarah was an incredibly talented and hard working skier, a pioneer of freeskiing, and a beautiful soul inside and out, but she was also hugely instrumental in the campaign to get freeskiing accepted as an Olympic sport.
It all started back in the early 2000’s when Sarah got to work lobbying the X-Games organizers to accept women’s freeskiing into the Winter X-Games. In 2005 they finally did, and once the female skiers were given their time to shine the women’s competitive field blossomed. According to Trennon Paynter, Sarah’s dear friend and the Head Coach of the Canadian National Halfpipe Ski Team, when Sarah cracked the X-Games’ door open “This literally created the current women’s ski halfpipe international field, and this in turn helped convince organizing bodies such as the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and FIS [International Ski Federation] that ski halfpipe was a true dual-gender sport, which is an important criteria for Olympic consideration.”
Early on, Sarah also supported FIS events at a time when most of the freeskiing community was avoiding them to focus on higher profile privately sponsored events. Sarah had the foresight to realize that if she and other freeskiing stars participated in FIS events it would bring validity to the events and show the FIS that freeskiers were serious about the Olympics. But still things were progressing slowly for freeskiing, so in 2007 Sarah became one of two founding athlete members of the AFP (Association of Freeskiing Professionals), a group organized around creating a standard ranking system and consistent judging platform within freeskiing. The AFP became a voice to communicate with the FIS and push for Olympic inclusion. Sarah also became involved with the National Team programs in Canada to help push the Olympic cause. Paynter says, “Her support of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA) was one of the reasons that the CFSA supported creating a National Team, and backing the Olympic inclusion bid when it was presented and put to a vote amongst NSAs (National Sport Asscoiations) at the FIS council meetings.”
And of course, between all of these strategic steps, Sarah was also out there skiing as much as possible. She followed the snow all year long to countless events around the world, racking up wins and losses, bumps, bruises and broken bones, new tricks, Gold medals, and broken boundaries. After a decade of hard work and dedication, on April 6th of 2011 the IOC announced the inclusion of freeskiing into the 2014 Winter Games.
While Sarah may have passed away before she got to drop into the Olympic halfpipe, the very fact that freeskiing is now an Olympic sport is the true accomplishment of Sarah’s career, and one that is bigger than any Gold medal could ever be. In a sport where people are judged as individuals Sarah was as fierce a competitor as ever there was, but she was also incredibly civically minded. She saw the bigger picture that beyond her own personal skiing ambitions there was greater good in propping up the entire sport of freeskiing. It is precisely her rare combination of personal competitive drive and civic-mindedness that made Sarah a true leader. Her legacy will be forever present at all Winter Olympics to come.