When Olympic freestyle athlete Teal Harle first started skiing, the freestyle discipline wasn’t even on his radar. In fact, he thought the terrain park was something skiers and snowboarders just did for fun.
But being the kid in a Nancy Greene ski program at Mount Washington who would spend more time bombing through the trees and hitting all the little jumps than on the actual runs, when he finally did try freestyle for the first time, something just clicked.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Campbell River product, now Whistler resident, as he finished dead last in his first-ever freestyle competition.
But where many pre-teens might be discouraged about finishing last, Harle saw his competition as a new benchmark for where he wanted to be.
“[I wasn’t discouraged] at all. I didn’t enter my first contest in a competitive way, I just did it because it was around—like, why not? So I had no goals or expectations going into it,” he said. “I just went in and did my stuff, didn’t have any expectations of how it would go. If anything, it probably motivated me more to learn more and get better because I was like, ‘Oh wow, there is so much more that I could do or learn to be better at.’ And the next year I think I got third in that contest.”
Harle kept that same recreational approach to the sport throughout the next few years of his life. Even as he started to really excel at freestyle skiing while competing in the Timber Tours and the B.C. Winter Games, it was never something he envisioned doing professionally.
“It was always just for fun and it was just a thing to do, a hobby,” said Harle.
But at around 16 or 17 years old, things changed for Harle. He started to view freestyle as a potential career after being selected for the BC Team, followed by the National Team the very next year.
And just three years after making the National Team, Harle had the chance to do something many spend their whole lives dreaming about. He got to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, where he finished fifth in slopestyle.
“PyeongChang was awesome, and we were lucky enough last time, that we went there for the opening ceremony, and we stayed for the whole thing and the closing ceremonies as well, which was super cool because you could get the whole experience,” he said.
“And that’s what it’s really about … You are there for the big Olympic experience and you get to wear the Team Canada outfit. That’s what makes it really special.”
Now, with the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing right around the corner, Harle is hoping to build off his previous Olympic experience to take that next step and land on the podium.
So far this year, Harle has set himself up well for a chance to qualify for his second straight Olympics. He opened the season with a silver medal at the Big Air World Cup event in Chur, Switzerland last week, where he battled back from a crash on his first run to lay down a score of 98 on his second, vaulting him into first place before the very last rider stole the top spot with a 99.
“It’s a little bit of both [happiness and disappointment]. You have to be happy and excited with yourself that you landed your trick, that’s always the main goal. That’s the only thing that you can have an expectation on,” said Harle.
Early next week, Harle will be jetting off to Austria for the second stop on the World Cup circuit and his first slopestyle event of the season. And while he said his “rail skiing is a little lacking” so far this season, and that he’ll need a sledgehammer to break off the rust, having one podium finish already this year is helping to put his mind at ease and raise his confidence that he will be heading to his second Olympics in February.
But unlike last time in PyeongChang, where he held back a little to ensure he would at least put up a score in his first-ever Olympics, this time Harle will be throwing caution to the wind with a podium-or-bust mentality.
“I don’t have any expectations to do better than I did. Fifth at the Olympics is amazing and if I can do better than that, then awesome, and I will be shooting for the podium as always,” he said. “I would rather go for it and land on the podium than end up somewhere lower down.”
This is the first in a series of profile stories highlighting athletes that hope to make it to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.