Two skiing sisters and a snowboard star fighting a broken rib gave Canada’s Olympians the strong start they desired in Sochi.
Canada earned a medal of every colour Saturday on the opening day of Olympic medal competition. Montreal’s Justine Dufour-Lapointe led the way, flying to gold in the women’s moguls.
Chloe Dufour-Lapointe wasn’t far behind her sister, taking silver and relegating defending champion Hannah Kearney of the United States to bronze.
“It feels amazing,” Chloe said of being on the podium with her sister. “It happened at the World Cup, but now it’s at the Olympics. We had to do three runs and we did it together. We’re just really happy.”
Earlier, snowboarder Mark McMorris of Regina overcame a rough opening run in the men’s slopestyle final, capping a trying couple of weeks with a bronze-medal performance.
The early haul put Canada into a tie for second in the medal standings with the Netherlands at one gold, one silver and one bronze. Norway has one additional gold to lead after the first day.
Early success is crucial to the Canadian team, which some predict will win more medals in Sochi than it did four years ago at the highly successful Vancouver Games. Canada started slow in Vancouver with just one silver on the first day before finishing with 26 medals, including a record 14 gold.
Canada will almost certainly add to its medal haul Sunday, when the final three events of figure skating team competition take place. Canada is currently in silver-medal position after second-place finishes in the short dance and free pairs skates and a fifth in the women’s short on Saturday.
Justine Dufour-Lapointe saved her best performance for the six-athlete final. While she looked tentative in the early runs, she blazed down the course when it counted. The combination of her speed, handling of the moguls and jumps — a 360-degree twist and a back layout — gave her a score of 22.44 points.
“I really gave it my all,” said Justine. “I felt the pressure, but I tried to just put that away and I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to roar and people will see me and remember who the real Justine is.’”
Chloe who finished fifth at the Vancouver Games and was the only sister with Olympic experience, had more complex jumps but her run wasn’t as smooth. She scored 21.66.
Kearney went last, with a chance to become the first woman to win back-to-back gold medals in 22-year history of Olympic moguls. But she made a mistake on her first jump and couldn’t make it up later on the course.
A third Dufour-Lapoint sister, Maxime, failed to make the final six along with Audrey Robichaud of Quebec City.
McMorris, meanwhile, was expected to win a medal in the men’s slopestyle event, but his route to the bronze was hardly textbook.
He broke a rib just a few weeks before the start of the Games, then overcame a difficult qualifying run and a fall in his first run of the final.
He performed when it counted though, turning in a strong second run at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park to finish third with 88.75 points.
“I would have loved to be in the gold medal position but with what I’ve been through in the last two weeks, just standing on the podium in general feels like a gold medal to me,” said McMorris.
American Sage Kotsenburg won gold with a score of 93.50. Norway’s Staale Sandbech took the silver with a 91.75.
Maxence Parrot of Bromont, Que., finished fifth and Montreal’s Sebastien Toutant finished ninth.
Parrot, who was first in qualifying, had the last run of the final, but didn’t put up a good enough run to break into the medals.
In figure skating, Canada is in an excellent position to win a medal heading into Sunday’s final three skates.
But it probably won’t be gold.
Russia took an almost insurmountable six-point lead over Canada after five events after winning the pairs free skate in front of a rocking mostly-Russian crowd at the 12,000-seat Iceberg Skating Palace.
The dominant hosts have 47 out of a possible 50 points in the event. Canada has 41 points and the United States 34.
Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Toronto’s Dylan Moscovitch earned nine points for Canada with a second-place finish in the pairs long program.
Earlier in the night, Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., and partner Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., finished second in the ice dance short program, then Kaetlyn Osmond, an 18-year-old Marystown, N.L., was fifth in the women’s singles short program.
Moir compared the atmosphere in the rink to a Canada-Russia hockey game.
“I don’t know about you guys, but it felt to me like I was at a hockey game a little bit, like I was watching the ’72 Summit Series in warmup when they were cheering ‘Russia! Russia!’” Moir said, laughing. “Growing up as a hockey player, I felt like I was ready to go.”
In men’s biathlon, Jean-Philippe le Guellec, Shannon, Que., narrowly missed another podium for Canada, finishing fifth in the men’s biathlon 10-kilometre sprint.
“There is no rest on this course,” he said. “It’s a continuous grind.”
Elsewhere, the Canadian women’s hockey team started its quest for its fourth straight Olympic gold medal with a 5-0 win over Switzerland.
The Canadians pelted Switzerland’s goaltender Florence Schelling with 69 shots and earned a 5-0 victory to open defence of their gold medal.
Hayley Wickenheiser, who carried the flag for Canada on Friday, scored a short-handed goal with Jocelyne Larocque, Tara Watchorn, Marie-Philip Poulin and Rebecca Johnston also scoring.
Goalie Charline Labonte earned the 14-save shutout, while Schelling was a workhorse in the Swiss net with 64 saves.
“After last night’s ceremony and all the buildup, I think it was a really good day for all of us to get on the ice and get to the reason why we’re here which is playing hockey,” Canadian head coach Kevin Dineen said.
“We got our game in order. It looked like we had a heck of a lot of energy out there today, which was part of what we’d talked about probably too much over the last couple of weeks, but it certainly showed in the game today, so it was certainly a good start for us.”