KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - The words, choked and tortured as they came, were accompanied by tears rolling over Spencer O'Brien's freckled cheeks.
Those came in spurts, punctuated by long pauses from a futile attempt to gather herself. And it hurt just to hear them.
“I’m really disappointed and really sad that I let Canada down,” she said, still in shock and having no clue how ridiculous a thing it was to say.
In that excruciating moment, the only person she let down was herself as she failed to live up to the expectations she had set as a proud and contending Olympian.
As for the country she so ached to represent? If you were mere feet away from her, as I was, just 30 minutes after she stumbled out of the women’s slopestyle competition, she was only breaking hearts.
A bonafide medal threat coming here, O'Brien had hoped to follow or even one up teammate Mark McMorris’s bronze medal the previous day. Instead, she finished in twelfth and in tears.
Worst yet, she felt waking up on Sunday that it was going to be the best day of her life. Nerves were in check and she had grand plans for big jumps on the Rosa Khutar course.
"I felt great actually,” the 26-year-old B.C. native said after finally gathering herself. “That's why it was kind of like a sledgehammer a little bit.
“I had a great practice and felt really confident going into my first run and even into my second run after falling in my first. I'm proud of the way I handled the situation.
“Looking back, it’s going to be one of the biggest days of my life no matter what. I’m really proud of snowboarding right now. I’m just really disappointed.”
While O’Brien wasn’t viewed as the big gold-medal threat McMorris was the previous day, she was very much in the mix for a top-three performance.
But with both jumps in the final a write off, O’Brien was never a threat to catch American winner Jamie Anderson, who aced her second run to claim gold. Enni Rukajarvi of Finland took silver while Jenny Jones of England made history by becoming the first Briton to win a winter Olympic medal on the snow.
In a more dramatic way, considering she didn’t complete either run in the final and thus was unable to unveil the big jumps she had planned, O’Brien’s result typified an overall disappointing showing for the Canadian team as the slopestyle competition made its Olympic debut.
The bronze that McMorris claimed on Saturday wasn’t the colour many had pegged for him while teammates Sebastien Toutant (fith) and Max Parrot (ninth) were also considered medal contenders.
So even as the athletes and the fans seemed to love the funky new competition, the tank was below half empty for team Canada.
“When it comes down to it, when everyone gets nervous, it gets harder to stomp the tricks,” Canadian coach, Leo Addington said when asked about the new degree of pressure the athletes faced for the first time.”
Making its Olympic debut, slopestyle is run over a downhill course that included three rail features and three progressively bigger jumps allowing the athlete’s most spectacular tricks to come at the end in front of an eager and loud crowd.
But with the severity of the course comes risks as evidenced by the spectacular crash Sunday of one of the pre-event favourites, Sarka Pancochova of the Czech Republic. Pancochova’s head bounced so hard off the ground after a spill that her helmet split.
“The snowboarders here are pushing the level and when you push the level like that, people fall,” Addington said. “It’s Olympics. There’s a lot of pressure.
“It’s tough. One little bobble will take you out.”
And one Canadian woman has the tears to prove it.