Trennon Paynter called it a “stealth mission.”
After training had begun for the Olympic women’s halfpipe, but before the competition, the Canadian freestyle ski coach waited for quiet moment, hiked a little ways down the course, and removed a cylindrical container from its tooled leather case.
In it were the ashes of Sarah Burke, the Canadian pioneer who led the effort to get the women’s X-Games sport into the Olympics but who died in a January 2012 training accident before she could see her dream realized.
Paynter spread some of her ashes on the halfpipe course, unbeknownst to Olympic officials, and so — in essence — the entire competition was skied over the remains of the woman whose memory the International Olympic Committee had refused to honour in any official way.
They’ve honoured her now, like it or not.
“Well, honestly I’ve known for almost a couple of years now that these Games, for us especially as a team, were really going to revolve around Sarah’s memory,” said Paynter.
“Myself and Rory (Bushfield), Sarah’s husband and one of my closest friends, we discussed it a long time ago that we wanted to bring Sarah here and decided we would bring some of her ashes here and spread them around the event, and try to get some in the pipe, if we could pull it off.”
The actual operation, he said, was where the stealth was involved.
“It was, for one, a very sort of private personal moment so we didn’t want to make any noise about it in advance. It’s probably not entirely following all the rules, but it was something we were going to make happen, regardless,” said Paynter. “And I know that we’re certainly not alone (as Canadians) in feeling that the debut of ski halfpipe at the Olympics was so much about Sarah. Every other competitor from every other nation in halfpipe skiing feels the same.”