Maelle Ricker understands all the attention she’s garnered since winning Olympic gold.
Heck, when the snowboard cross racer isn’t on the snow, like this weekend at Canada Olympic Park, she becomes a huge fan.
She’s out with a shoulder-hand injury (although snowboard cross isn’t contested at COP anyway) but the 32-year-old from Squamish, B.C., will be rooting on teammates anyway.
“I love watching. I get so excited. I get so behind the riders,” said Ricker. “It’s nerve-wracking watching because I know what it’s like to be in their shoes.
“In that regard, I’m so happy that I’m here. I used to travel with all the girls on the halfpipe team.”
Much like her time in Calgary this weekend, Ricker has been on a whirlwind tour since becoming the first Canadian woman to win Olympic gold on home soil.
It’s been just over a year since she triumphed in Vancouver, which was her third Games and second in snowboard cross. She began her long Olympic career in Nagano, where she was fifth in the halfpipe.
A painful fourth-place snowboard-cross finish at Turin in 2006 didn’t dampen her spirit, and now she can carry the gold medal around with her when she wants.
She’s popular enough now she even drew a huge ovation from the Saddledome crowd Friday night when announced during a TV timeout.
At COP Saturday, where she will attend the halfpipe and slopestyle finals, there will be an autograph booth with the medal on display.
“It’s neat that people got that excited about the Games,” Ricker said. “It’s fun to share the medal with everybody.”
For Ricker, the medal represents much more than just one great day on the course. She lived through heartbreak before getting to the top.
“It shows a bunch of hard work from a lot of people paid off when it all came together on that day last year,” Ricker said. “It has huge significance to me. It was something I wanted to do since I was a kid. It’s nice to have fulfilled that dream.”
If Ricker can stay healthy and keeps enjoying what she’s doing, there might be a gold-medal defence attempt at Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
The atmosphere won’t be the same as winning on home soil, but Ricker isn’t just in this for the glory.
“I choose to do this because I love the lifestyle and everything that’s around it,” she said. “If I wasn’t racing, I would still be involved in the sport somehow.
“I still want to compete and I still want to snowboard. For those reasons, I will want to be in Russia. The reason why I’m racing isn’t just because of going to Olympics. It’s because I love snowboarding so much.”
Time is running out on this season, but Ricker hopes to compete at season-ending races in Europe. She needs her wonky shoulder to comply, though.
“It’s like a rubber ducky right now. Pulling out of the gate is a little tough,” said Ricker, who’s anxious to get on the board again after nearly seven weeks off.
“Even being at home, I’m itching to get back on the board because there’s been so much powder at whistler. For all reasons, I want to get back on the board.”