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Sarah Burke remembered by freeskiers in Sochi

Halfpipe workers form heart and peers honor the late skiing halfpipe pioneer in various ways as sport debuts at Winter Olympics; Burke touched each medalist

Sarah Burke

Halfpipe workers honor Sarah Burke by skiing down in the form of a heart at the end of the women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe competition. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Upon the conclusion of the women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe competition Thursday, the halfpipe workers formed a heart and skied down one last time.

The poignant moment was in honor of the late Sarah Burke, the Canadian freestyle skier who was a pioneer for women’s halfpipe and championed its inclusion in the Winter Olympics.

Sadly, women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe made its Winter Olympics debut without her. Burke died from injuries sustained in a crash while training in the halfpipe in 2012.

Sarah Burke

Silver medalist Marie Martinod honored Sarah Burke by pointing skyward and making a heart with her hands after her second run. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

But her peers made sure she was not forgotten, honoring her in various ways, the most obvious being the 22 “slippers” who formed a heart and skied down the halfpipe, much to the delight of Burke’s parents, who attended the event.

“Far beyond what I thought it would be,” Burke’s father, Gord, told the Associated Press. “I never really imagined so much love for one person. So much passion and energy.”

In fact, each of the medal winners in the inaugural event was impacted by Burke in some way.

Gold medalist Maddie Bowman of the U.S. called meeting Burke “the coolest moment of my life.”

“Sarah saw that she [Maddie] was by herself and brought her over, introduced herself and brought her into the group,” Bowman’s mother, Susan, told AP. “It was pretty amazing.”

Silver medalist Marie Martinod of France had quit the sport seven years ago but returned at Burke’s urging.

“I’m thinking of Sarah every day,” said Martinod, who painted snowflakes on her fingernails to match the tattoo Burke had on her foot. “I think I didn’t say goodbye to Sarah yet and I still have to do it, and now I feel I’m able to do it because I did what she asked me to do.”

Bronze medalist Ayana Onozuka of Japan was an alpine skier before Burke helped get freestyle skiing halfpipe into the Winter Olympics. “I decided to take up a new profession,” Onozuka said.

In the crowd at the bottom of the halfpipe, Jan Phelan, Burke’s mother, wore a bright purple jacket over an aqua T-shirt that read, “Dream Without Fear,” a motto the family uses to promote the Sarah Burke Foundation.

“It was Sarah’s dream to be here, so, we’re here,” Phelan said. “The halfpipe is opening for the women and I miss her like crazy. It really hasn’t been too hard until right now. The moment.”

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke; photo by Getty Images/Doug Pensinger

To honor Burke, Martinod pointed skyward and made a heart symbol with her hands after her second run.

Canadian Rosalind Groenewoud bowed her head and pointed to her helmet after her first run. The helmet was devoid of the “Celebrate Sarah” sticker she normally wears (and points to) but couldn’t at the Winter Olympics because of IOC rules. Also, her family held up a banner that read “Celebrate Sarah.”

And celebrate Sarah they did.

“The spirit here was so good,” Phelan said. “Sarah would’ve loved it.”

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