KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Justine Dufour-Lapointe was stunned. She had just knocked off the best moguls skier in the world to win the Olympic gold medal.
On a crystal clear Saturday night in the craggy mountains above Sochi, one of the most memorable evenings in Canada’s Olympic history, she knew exactly where to turn. Her sister, Chloe, took the silver. So, Justine grabbed Chloe’s hand and they stepped onto the podium together for the flower ceremony.
“Holding Chloe’s hand meant that I wasn’t alone,” Justine said. “I was in shock. I saw Chloe and I felt calm. Holding her hand, I knew it would feel more like home.”
Not far away from the winners, their oldest sister, Maxime, was crying. She finished 12th on the eve of her 25th birthday.
“The path we walked, we did this side-by-side,” she said.
When they were younger, Justine and Chloe saw Maxime skiing moguls in the resorts near Montreal and thought it looked cool. Thus, the Dufour-Lapointe freestyle dynasty was born.
Justine, 19, and Chloe, 22, joined French skiers Marieele and Christine Goitschel and Austrian lugers Doris and Angelika Neuner on the short list of sisters to win Olympic gold and silver in the same event.
“I knew they were looking for this result and it’s just amazing,” Maxime said. “I’m just lucky I’m living in the same house because I can learn from the two best in the world.”
The 1-2 finish kept American Hannah Kearney, the top-ranked and most consistent skier in the world over the past four years, from becoming the first back-to-back winner of an Olympic freestyle event.
Kearney, the 27-year-old from Hanover, N.H., spent all night trying, unsuccessfully, to find her footing on a tricky bump that came directly after the first jump. She was inconsolable.
“No one in life wants their best part of their career to be behind them,” she said. “And unfortunately, that’s what it feels like right now.”
Over the past year or so, second-ranked Justine Dufour-Lapointe has proven herself as one of the few skiers who could challenge Kearney, a once-in-a-lifetime talent who strung together a record 16 straight wins over a span from 2011-12.
But with the bright lights shining down on a steeper- and tougher-than-usual Olympic moguls course, Justine more than challenged.
Going fourth of the six skiers in the last round, Justine set the bar with a straight, solid trip – skis pointed directly downhill and the bright red knee pads that help the judges gauge the quality of the run moving together in unison.
Her jumps – a 360-degree twist and a back layout – were simple and ramrod straight. She earned a 22.44 when the three scoring elements – speed (25 percent), turns through the moguls (50 percent) and jumps (12.5 percent each) were added up.
“They’re incredibly consistent skiers who perform well under pressure,” Kearney said. “They ski the same run every time.”
Chloe, who finished fifth at the Vancouver Games and was the only sister with Olympic experience, came next. Her jumps were a bit more complex – they both involved crossing her skis – but the run itself was a little less clean. She scored 21.66.
“It was a hill that needed to be skied with emotion, so I skied with my heart,” Chloe said. “The judges saw it tonight.”
Kearney went last, with a chance to become the first skier to go back-to-back in 22-year history of Olympic freestyle. But it was her landing after the first jump, one she had trouble with in practice, then during two earlier runs, as well, that tripped her up. Her left ski went flailing up and she struggled to keep her balance.
Kearney’s final jump, which includes a grab of her ski – the most difficult trick on the slope this night – wasn’t enough to make up for the earlier problems.
“I’ll have to treat this bronze medal as a reward for fighting,” she said. “Right now, I’d like very much to ski again. But I’ll try my very best to let it go. It’ll help my happiness level.”
No help needed in the Dufour-Lapointe family – or anywhere in Canada, it seems. The country that hosted the last Winter Games pumped big-time money into its skiing programs and won 26 medals in 2010, including a world-leading 14 golds.
After the first full day of competition in Russia, Canada already has three – starting with Mark McMorris’ bronze in slopestyle just up the hill from the moguls.
And silver and gold from the Dufour-Lapointes. Shortly after their victories, they received a phone call from Prime Minister Stephen Harper that they couldn’t accept. They were in the middle of the winner’s news conference.
“A dream. A long time, we’ve dreamed this,” said their father, Yves. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”