Prince George snowboard cross racer Meryeta O’Dine and Eliot Grondin are double Olympic medalists, and they did it the hard way.
In the first-ever Olympic mixed team snowboarding event, O’Dine, of Prince George, and Grondin, of Sainte-Marie, Que., narrowly averted disaster when O’Dine crashed in the Big Finals but she recovered in time to win the bronze medal Saturday in Zhangjiakou, China.
O’Dine went down as she landed a jump when Caterina Carpano of Italy gained more elevation over the same jump and went sideways in the air, hitting O'Dine's back as she crashed, while Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States and Michela Moioli continued down the course. Jacobellis, the women’s individual Olympic champion, caught Moioli on the last corner before the roller section at the bottom of the course and held her lead the rest of the way. She and Nick Baumgartner won the gold, with Moioli and Omar Visintin locking up the silver medal.
"There was four of us all coming into that jump section pretty tight with each other and I saw Caterina's board going up and I was heading down and she kept going up and I was like, 'okay, I'm about to get landed on in the final," said O'Dine.
"[I] dug my head into the snow, popped it up and realized that I was doing a little bit better than she was. I just instantly got up and started hiking up the jump to try and get on the podium."
O’Dine skidded further down the course and with both feet still attached to her board she crawled to the top of the berm and continued. She got to the finish five seconds ahead of Carpano to claim her second bronze medal of the Games.
"You’ve got both your feet still strapped in and you just basically do a bear crawl going up the front of the jump,” said O’Dine. "You work as hard as you can and it felt like for that moment was all the cardio that I did all summer."
Grondin, the men’s individual silver medalist, finished third in his Big Final heat, 23/100ths of a second behind pace-setter Baumgartner. O’Dine was second out of the hole shot behind Moioli, but dropped off the pace slightly when Jacobellis made her move. It was a nervous time for Grondin watching the race from the bottom of the hill.
"Oh it was so stressful. When the crash happened they just kept [showing it on the big screen] the first two (Jacobellis and Moioli) and I had no idea what was going on," said Grondin.
"I didn't know if she was OK, or anything. So I was just waiting and hoping she was fine and that she kept going. And then I saw her name on the split times and I said, 'come on.' Then she jumped to the finish line and I was like, 'we did it.' It's crazy, unreal."
It was snowing and cold for the race, with a start temperature of -10 C at Genting Snow Park in Chongli, China. The four centimetres of fresh snow reduced visibility and slowed down the course drastically, compared to conditions for the individual events. That made it challenging for the athletes who had to be careful not to come up short and knuckle over the berms, which would slow them down.
Grondin was the king of the starts, using his core strength to muscle over the rollers at the top and he got ahead of the pack in the quarterfinal and semifinal heats. Starts for the women were staggered, and their gates were timed to open on a delay, based on the order of finish for the men.
Grondin was all alone at the finish in the quarterfinal and gave O’Dine a 3.96-second head start over the other three racers in the heat, the maximum allowed. O’Dine was passed by Kristian Paul of the Russian Olympic Committee near the bottom of the course but it didn’t matter because the top two in each heat advance.
Tess Critchlow of Kelowna teamed up with Liam Moffatt of Truro, N.S., in the quarterfinals and Moffatt was second in his heat, 27/100ths behind Huw Nightingale of Great Britain. But the second Canadian team was eliminated when Critchlow finished third in her race.
In the semifinals, Grondin gave O’Dine a lead of 89/100ths of a second to start with. She and Carpano battled all the way to the bottom with the Italian just 3/100ths of a second quicker as they got to the line.
O’Dine’s individual bronze made Prince George sports history as the first athlete from the Spruce City to win an Olympic medal. Her bronze triumph with Grondin was Canada’s eighth bronze medal of the Games. Canada has won one gold, four silver and eight bronze for a total of 13 medals, good for fourth place in the medal standings.
O’Dine’s success at this year’s Olympics makes up for the hard luck she encountered four years ago in 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, where she suffered the fifth concussion of her career in a training run and did not get to race.The thrill of winning her individual bronze medal still hadn't worn off when she returned to the Secret Garden course to tackle the team event.
“Yeah, it’s hanging on the end of my bed," O’Dine told Canadian Press reporter John Chidley-Ross, referring to her first medal. "It’s actually really crazy to just be able to look up and be like ‘Dang man, you won an Olympic medal!’ And now I’ve got two. Whaaat!"