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Canadas Cassie Sharpe soars to gold in womens freestyle halfpipe
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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Cassie Sharpe wears a mouth guard with a gold tooth painted in the middle and raps to herself just before she drops into the halfpipe, the bars of hip-hop group M.O.P.’s hit “Ante Up” buzzing through the Canadian freestyle skier’s head on a loop.

The ritual calms her down and pumps her up at the same time, one that ended with a dazzling show in the Olympic finals on Wednesday, as the 25-year-old picked up the torch left by the late Canadian star Sarah Burke and carried it into the future.

Sharpe soared to gold with a pair of thrilling runs at Phoenix Snow Park, posting the top two scores of the day. The 95.80 she put up during her second set, one she capped by stomping a 1080-degree spin, marked the highest ever during the sport’s brief Olympic history.

Freestyle halfpipe made its debut at the Sochi Games four years ago thanks in large part to the efforts of Burke, a four-time X Games winner who was at the forefront of the movement to get it included into the Olympic program.

Burke died from head injuries suffered in a training accident in 2012. Six years later, however, her legacy is secure. The proof came during Burke’s boundary-pushing display.

“I wouldn’t be doing the tricks that I do without her being in this sport,” Sharpe said. “She was the pioneer for us to be in the Olympics and for us to be a part of all of it so definitely, she’s always on our minds, she’s always with us.”

Sharpe topped qualifying on Monday with a pair of massive runs and went even higher in the finals. When France’s Marie Martinod washed out during her final run and was forced to settle for a second silver to go with the one she captured in Sochi, it gave Sharpe the victory lap she’d long envisioned.

One problem. Sharpe was too overcome to “send it” following a teary embrace with her coach Trennan Paynter, who also served as Burke’s coach, before her last trip. Sharpe ended up sitting down halfway through the run. Not that it mattered.

“I didn’t realize how much emotions would be going at that point,” she said with a laugh. “It still felt good to go through there. I had a moment when I fell and I was just sliding backwards and I looked back up and I was like: ‘You did it. You’re here. It’s fine.’”

And spectacular.

Martinod, a longtime friend of Burke’s who was lured out of possible retirement by Burke when halfpipe entered the Olympics, threw down a 92.60 on her second run. The 33-year-old mother also took a moment to tell Sharpe how she knew Burke would be impressed with the series of athletic leaps off the deck Sharpe seemed to do with remarkable ease.

“Marie said, ‘I feel you have the ability to carry on what Sarah was doing here,’” Sharpe said. “It feels totally good. Super special. It meant a lot. And it was mid-runs too and she was likem ‘OK, just focus on what you’re doing.’ ‘Oh, OK then.’”

Martinod, who is retiring for real this time so she can focus on her family and 8-year-old daughter, Melirose, believes Burke would have been pleased with what went down on the sport’s biggest stage.

“We saw a lot of 10s, a lot of good tricks, high amplitude and that’s exactly what (Burke’s) been fighting for,” Martinod said. “So she’d be proud that all those people around the world could be the best contest ever at this time. It’s perfect.”

American Brita Sigourney edged teammate Annalisa Drew for bronze. Drew scored 90.80 on her final run to slip past Sigourney only to have Sigourney, the next skier down, put up a 91.80.

Defending Olympic champion Maddie Bowman of the United States fell on the final hit during each of her three runs in the finals.