CALGARY - Up until Thursday night, Rosalind Groenewoud was having a tough time focusing on skiing.
After the death last week of Sarah Burke, who crashed in a training run Jan. 10 in Utah, the entire Canadian freestyle skiing team was in shock, and Groenewoud was one of the 29-year-old’s closest friends.
But when ESPN arranged a tribute for Burke Thursday night at the X Games in Aspen, Colo., it marked a turning point for Groenewoud.
She took in the celebration, shed some tears and realized how honoured she is to be able to compete in freestyle skiing.
On Saturday, the Calgary native fired into the halfpipe with speed and energy, ran through a smooth series of tricks — one that sent her 14 ft. out of the pipe — and walked away with X Games gold.
Burke, who grew up in Midland, Ont., was the favourite for a fifth X Games gold, but instead, her memory helped a teammate get her first title.
“It felt like I had Sarah with me,” said Groenewoud, who hugged parents Shanne and Leo after her winning run.
“She was my teammate for so long. I will miss her for forever … this is for Sarah.
“This means so much. After the tribute for Sarah on Thursday, I was just so proud to be a skier.
“The outpouring of love from the community was just amazing. On Friday morning in training, and today, I just tried to let all of that love lift me up. It feels so great.”
Groenewoud is not new to the podium, as this is her fourth X Games medal. Last April at the world ski championships in Park City, Utah, she captured gold in the halfpipe.
This win, coming so soon after Burke’s death on Jan. 19, obviously is much more emotional.
“Winning X Games is one of every extreme skier’s career goals,” said the 22-year-old, who wore a ‘Celebrate Sarah’ sticker on her helmet.
“I’m super happy this was my year. I’m really happy with all the emotion from the last few weeks that I was able to focus that onto a positive and land a good run today.
“My amplitude was some of the biggest. I had a really technical run.”
The key to her win was the big air she reached and that she added a switch trick to it — one where she approaches the wall backwards.
This is the first X Games since it was announced freestyle superpipe will be added to the next Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Groenewoud will be a favourite to win a medal in 2014, but she expects the competition to get tougher, thanks in large part to Burke for breaking down barriers.
“It’s progressing with the girls all really pushing themselves,” Groenewoud said. “The best way to honour Sarah’s legacy is for all of us to progress women’s skiing and to fight for more inclusion in events.
“We need some more TV time, and that’s the best way to say thank you to her.
“It was one of my biggest dreams when we got Olympic inclusion that more and more girls would be encouraged to start skiing pipe.
“They were going to be part of the sport and help push it to another level.”