BEIJING – Cassie Sharpe described her devastating injury and the recovery that followed as going to hell and back.
Now the Canadian has another Olympic medal to show for that tumultuous year that took a physical and mental toll.
Just over a year after suffering a serious injury at the Winter X Games, Sharpe won silver in the women’s freeski halfpipe at the Beijing Olympics Friday ahead of friend and teammate Rachael Karker, who took home bronze.
Neither Canadian could match Chinese sensation Eileen Gu, who captured gold for her third medal in Beijing.
Speedskater Laurent Dubreuil added to Canada’s medal count later by winning silver in the men’s 1,000 metres after Brad Gushue defeated the United States to claim bronze in men’s curling.
For a time it looked like Sharpe wouldn’t even get the chance to defend her freeski halfpipe gold from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
The 29-year-old from Calgary broke her femur and tore the ligaments in her left knee in a crash in January 2021. Reconstructive surgery followed by nine months of physical rehabilitation meant Sharpe only had four months of skiing to prepare for Beijing.
“Exactly a year ago I had reconstructive ACL knee surgery in which they fractured my femur,” she said. “It was just a crazy experience to go through that and the first three, four months after surgery, I didn’t know if I would make it here.
“Being able to flip it around and get on snow just under four months ago and make it to the Games and get a podium, I’m extremely proud and pretty satisfied with my performance.”
The weeks after surgery were some of the toughest of Sharpe’s life.
“The first six weeks after surgery, I went to hell and I luckily have a very supportive family that helped pull me out of that and get me back on track and give me a kick in the butt,” she said.
On Friday at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, Sharpe held down the silver position behind Gu through all three rounds with an 89.00 and a 90.00 in her first and second runs respectively. She scored 90.75 on her third run to clinch silver.
Karker, from Erin, Ont., scored 87.75 on her first run in her Olympic debut.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Cassie and I have shared so many podiums over the years and I’m so happy we were also able to get this one.”
A few hours later, Canada increased its medal count to 24 when Dubreuil reached the podium.
Skating in the final pairing, the 29-year-old from Levis, Que., crossed the finish line 0.40 seconds behind gold-medallist Thomas Krol of the Netherlands.
Haavard Holmefjord Lorentzen of Norway took bronze.
It was redemption of sorts for Dubreuil, who narrowly missed out on a medal in the 500 metres earlier in the Games when he finished three-hundredths of a second behind the third-place finisher.
“I knew I could turn it around. It’s just crazy to turn it around that much because, obviously, I’m a better 500 skater than a 1,000 skater,” he said. “I was able to start fast and skate more relaxed. If I had skated like this six days ago it would have been much better.”
At the Ice Cube, Canada defeated American John Shuster 8-5 in the third-place match, one day after losing in the semifinal to Sweden’s Niklas Edin.
Canada scored two in the eighth end and stole another two in the ninth for the come-from-behind victory.
“Today and the past couple of days has just been about grinding, and trying to give ourselves a shot to win,” said Gushue, who won gold in 2006. “We had a shot last night (against Sweden) that was tough and we just missed it. And today we got a break in the ninth end with the steal of two which put the game out of reach.”
It was Canada’s only curling medal in Beijing after the women’s and mixed doubles teams failed to reach the playoffs.
Back in Zhangjiakou, a foursome of Canadian skiers could not live up to expectations in the men’s ski cross.
Calgary’s Brady Leman, the defending champion, came closest. The 35-year-old lost in the semifinal before finishing second in the small final for sixth overall.
Leman won ski cross gold in Pyeongchang in 2018.
“I’d have loved to follow up a medal or win again, but I’m really proud of this race,” he said. “I’ve had such a difficult last two years, with so many injuries and so many obstacles, and there were so many moments when I didn’t think I’d have a chance to defend that medal and I did.”
Canada was heavily favoured to podium at the event.
Reece Howden of Cultus Lake, B.C., was a Crystal Globe winner for the 2020-21 season. Toronto’s Kevin Drury won the Crystal Globe the season before. And Ottawa’s Jared Schmidt won bronze at two World Cup events last year.
All three were ousted in the quarterfinals.
In figure skating, Vanessa James and Eric Radford are in 12th after the pairs short program, while fellow Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are 13th after a frightening stumble.
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China are the leaders with a score of 84.41. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are second (84.25), while Russian teammates Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov are third (82.76).
Skating to “Hold on Tight” by Forest Blakk, Moore-Towers and Marinaro both took a hard fall on their throw triple loop. Marinaro caught his toe pick in the ice when he was launching Moore-Towers into the air – a mishap they said never happens – and both wound up on their stomachs.
“It was a huge, huge error. It’s stupid to beat ourselves up now. Give ourselves five minutes and put it behind us and it’s time to regroup for tomorrow,” said Marinaro. “There’s nothing we can do about it now. You can take the frustration and anger out and move forward for the long program.”
The pairs free skate is Saturday.
On the sliding track, Christine de Bruin and brakewoman Kristen Bujnowski are fourth heading into Saturday’s women’s bobsled final. The Canadian team posted a two-heat time of two minutes, 3.21 seconds.
Germany’s Laura Nolte and Deborah Levi have a commanding half-second lead after two runs, with a combined time of 2:02.05. Olympic champion Mariama Jamanka and Alexandra Burghardt, also of Germany, are second, in 2:02.55.
The U.S. is third, with four-time medallist Elana Meyers Taylor and brakewoman Sylvia Hoffman finishing their first two runs in 2:02.79 – well ahead of de Bruin.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2022.