Before she dropped into the halfpipe for her final Olympic run Tuesday morning in South Korea, American freestyle skier Brita Sigourney took a few deep breaths. She was nervous, and nauseous, and the breathing helped purge those bad feelings. Sigourney needed to nail her flashy tricks to finish on the podium. But the American wasn’t just skittish about her own skiing. She also knew that if she did her job, she’d knock her friend and teammate, Annalisa Drew, out of third place for good. Her glory would come at a buddy’s expense.
Sigourney did her job, skiing cleanly. Drew greeted her with a hug at the bottom of the pipe. Now, they shared a strange moment. They stood next to each other, both looking at the video board awaiting Sigourney’s final score. “It’s kind of an uncomfortable spot,” says Sigourney.
Sigourney wanted a medal. She loves Drew, but she’s a competitor. This is the Olympics. Love and friendship only carries so far.
Finally, the number flashed: 91.60. Sigourney had her bronze; her score topped Drew’s 90.80. They shared a long embrace. Drew told Sigourney she loves her and is proud of her.
Even after Drew’s final run put her into third, ahead of Sigourney, she didn’t expect her bronze to hold. “When I got put into third, it was more of a ‘that’s nice’ kind of thing,” says Drew. “Not ‘yaaaaaaay!’ I wasn’t going to celebrate early.” Sigourney’s last run immediately followed Drew’s. “I knew she had it as soon as she dropped in [the halfpipe],” says Drew. Why? “She’s Brita.”
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Sigourney’s stylish ski grabs in mid-air made the difference. She didn’t ski well enough to move eventual gold medalist Cassie Sharpe of Canada, or silver medalist Marie Matrinod of France, out of their positions. But after suffering through three knee surgeries, two shoulder surgeries, one thumb surgery and an ankle surgery through the course of her career, a bronze would do just fine for Sigourney.
Sigourney and Drew weren’t close before the last Olympics, but started rooming with one another last year. “We’re so different,” says Sigourney. “She’s an east coaster, a straight Bostonian. [Drew grew up in Andover, Mass.] I’m a California girl. Stereotypically, I’m pretty laid back, and she’s not. She gives me the hyperactive energy I need sometimes.”
That spark could have cost Drew a medal, though she took the loss in total stride. The American halfpipe performance, in fact, was marked by gracious defeat. Maddie Bowman, the defending Olympic gold medalist, fell in all three of her finals runs. While crashing on her last trick, her helmet smacked the snow. (She said she was fine, but expected the team’s medical staff to test her). Bowman left devastated that she couldn’t defend her title. She she felt genuine joy for Sigourney. “I’m so excited for Brita,” says Bowman, getting choked up. “She’s worked so hard for this, and wanted it so bad. I’ve watched her go through the ups and downs. It’s just awesome for her to walk away with a medal.”