As a moguls skier, Sofiane Gagnon’s run to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in China was always going to be a bit of a bumpy ride.
Now that the 22-year-old Freestyle Whistler alum has cracked her first Olympics team, she’s looking to stick the landing.
The most challenging part of Gagnon’s qualification came when she was forced to miss half the Olympic quadrennial due to a knee injury. However, Gagnon returned to action 12 months before the Games and she’s feeling stronger than ever.
“When I got back to skiing, I progressed a lot faster and I improved really, really quickly from my injury and even compared to before,” Gagnon said, adding that she watched video and worked on her balance during rehab.
Gagnon’s last event before her injury was at the FIS World Ski Championships at Deer Valley, Utah in February 2019, and she returned to World Cup action in February 2021, also at Deer Valley.
The delay was, in part, pandemic- related, as she was preparing to return to snow when COVID-19 struck in early 2020, delaying her return for several months.
Gagnon has posted some of the best results of her career since returning, scoring 10th in moguls in her first event back, a fourth-place finish in dual moguls at the World Ski Championships in Kazakhstan last March and top-10 placements (seventh in dual moguls and ninth in moguls) at the World Cup stop at Idre Fjall, Sweden last December.
Though there were challenges along the way, Gagnon said the support of her teammates and coaches kept her going.
“It definitely was hard to keep a positive mindset, especially when there were those setbacks. There were hard times when my knee wasn’t feeling well and it was really hurting. It’s only now feeling 100 per cent,” she said. “I never had any doubt that I would come back strong.”
Gagnon will be among the first athletes to get a taste of Olympic action this year, as the two qualification rounds will be broadcast on Feb. 3 at 2 a.m. (local time) and Feb. 6 at 2 a.m., with the finals starting Feb. 6 at 3:30 a.m.
Gagnon is eager to get things going, likening the Genting Resort Secret Garden venue to a stadium, given its capacity for about 3,600 spectators as well as its magnificent shining lights.
“The venue is just so impressive and of course, it’s the Olympics, so you’re expecting a lot, but it’s more than I could have imagined,” she said. “It’s magical and it gave me butterflies.”
While the atmosphere will be unlike anything else Gagnon has experienced before, the course itself invokes the setup at the World Cup site in Ruka, Finland.
“It’s well-made and symmetrical; it’s a perfect course for skiing, that’s for sure,” she said. “This one is the same pitch all the way down, so we don’t have to adjust our bodies to account for the pitch change. The moguls are also very even in rhythm, so we don’t have to prepare for those longer ones and shorter ones.”
While Gagnon is aiming for gold, she’ll consider laying down a run that showcases her abilities a major success.
“I’m going to focus on what I can do best and show that off,” she said.
Rather than catching other events in the Zhangjiakou Zone, Gagnon will leave right after competition. While she’s sad to miss the exhilaration of being there live, she’ll embrace the time to experience the Games back in Canada.
“It’ll be really cool to be home with my family and watch the other events ... and feeling like I was right there,” she said