There was no Olympic hardware for Canadian freestyle skier Dara Howell this time around. However, her comeback season still feels like a victory in many ways.
The Sochi Games slopestyle champion couldn’t defend her title last month in Pyeongchang after coming up short in the qualifying round. Howell put that result behind her and closed out her World Cup season in style last weekend by winning gold in her first-ever big air competition.
After essentially missing two-plus years and going back to basics after hitting “rock bottom” with her skiing last winter, Howell is pleased with how far she has come over the last season.
“Overall it was a success,” she said Friday from her hometown of Huntsville, Ont. “I’ve learned so much, I’ve grown so much.”
Howell often felt overwhelmed after winning Olympic gold in 2014. Her motivation plummeted and she pulled away from the sport.
The 23-year-old started working with new coaches last year and eventually built herself back up for a return. She continued meeting with a sports psychologist and made progress on the slopes.
“I think I’ve learned to work hard and I’ve learned that a medal isn’t always a success,” Howell said. “It’s how you approach it and how you move away from unsuccessful (results).”
The 2013 world silver medallist battled knee injuries throughout the season. She tore her medial collateral ligament last November and also tweaked her ankle while training in Calgary shortly before the Games.
“I think when you have those hard times, it makes you appreciate those good times,” Howell said. “I feel like I have so much more to give and so much more to still prove to myself.”
Howell was sixth at the Dew Tour in December and finished 13th at a World Cup in California in January.
After the Pyeongchang disappointment, Howell finished seventh at a World Cup in Italy before reaching the top of the podium in Quebec City.
“My peaking was a little late you could say,” she said. “But for me, I think just the whole journey has been interesting and I think I’ve grown so much as a person and as an athlete.”
In slopestyle, athletes tackle a course that includes rails, jumps and other obstacles. In big air, skiers start at the top of a hill and try to land the most impressive trick possible.
“It’s a lot of fun, I think it’s really cool for the sport,” Howell said of the big air discipline. “I’m really excited to do more.”
Howell plans to take a few weeks off before beginning off-season training ahead of the 2018-19 campaign. She also has an eye on the 2022 Games in Beijing.
“I’m in a really, really good spot,” she said. “I have so many people around me that see my potential and see the opportunity and just really want to support me in a positive way to help me achieve my dreams.
“I think that’s really cool.”
– Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press. Photo: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool
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