Dara Howell wasn't supposed to win. At least, she didn't expect to. In the week leading up to the first women's ski slopestyle event in the Winter Olympics, Howell, 19, spoke to the press about expectations. "I just hope a Canadian can bring home a gold for Sarah [Burke]," said Howell. To be clear, Howell meant any Canadian, not specifically herself. She's much too humble to claim a victory before competition. Then she went out and won gold. Following the event, Howell said the Olympic experience was surreal. She was in disbelief at fulfilling her own hope of a Canadian winning for Sarah. From her parents' home in Ontario, Howell spoke with us recently via Skype.
Dara Howell: I'm Dara. Nice to meet you!
[Howell laughs. She appears to be in an office.]
XGames: Nice to meet you too. How has everything gone since you arrived home from Sochi?
DH: It's going well. I did a signing at our local mall this morning, went for lunch, and was like, 'Oh no. I have a 1 o'clock interview!'
XG: Life is busy now.
DH: It's good. I've had a couple busy days, but I'm just going with it.
XG: I read somewhere that you have a fear of public speaking.
DH: [Laughs again, this time with hint of nervousness] I was the kid growing up that choked on their words. I stood up in front of the class shaking with a paper in my hand. To have that life now, where speaking is what I have to do ... I'm ... getting better at it slowly. [Nervous laughs one time.] It's not something I love to do. I'd rather ski.
XG: I don't know much about you. Tell me about yourself.
DH: I'm from Huntsville, Ontario, Canada. I grew up in a small town called Hidden Valley. My parents put me on skis at 18 months. We went to a members-only ski hill, it's kind of public now. Their racing program was good so I got involved in that. My parents had to bribe me to keep doing it. Racing wasn't my forte.
XG: Who were you thinking would bring home gold for Canada in women's freeskiing? Kaya [Turski]?
DH: Yeah, or Roz [Groenewoud] in the pipe. She's been pretty dominant. I feel like I've been working my way up. The timing worked out for me. I was skiing well. My coaches helped me learn new tricks and all the puzzle pieces fell into place at the right time.
XG: Standing at the top, what did you talk about with your coaches?
DH: I stood at the top with Toben [Sutherland]. J.F. [Cusson] stood toward the back. They told me the work was done. We couldn't change it. Whatever the outcome was, it was going to be what it was going to be. They were proud of me and told me to go out and show the world what I had. I didn't have the best training going into finals. I hadn't landed a run.
[Howell settles in her chair and takes a deep breath.]
I don't really know how I pulled it off. My coaches tell me to take it one feature at a time. I wanted to be proud of myself when I got down. I think that showed before I even got my score that I was excited with the run I had done. My coaches are great. They've been hard on me at times.
XG: How have they been hard on you?
DH: They tell me to get in shape. I feel like everything has happened for a reason. The things they've made me do have benefitted me in the end. They've helped make me a stronger and better person. I feel luck to have those two coaches.
XG: With all the hoopla leading up to the Olympics, did the event end up being what you expected it to be?
DH: No. Not really. I thought it was going to be a lot bigger than it actually was. When we put our skis on it was just another competition. It wasn't X Games. It wasn't Dew Tour. The cool part that I liked was all the Canadians got to stay together, live together and hang out in the athlete lounge. I didn't really expect that, but once we were on the hill it was all the same other than a lot of hype.
XG: What do you do now that you have this medal? Does it define you?
DH: I'm just getting started. I'd like to keep pushing the sport and myself as far as I can. We'll see where I wind up. I want to keep going. I only have an X Games bronze medal. I'm looking for at least silver. I want to get back on my skis. I skied Hidden Valley the other day and thought, "Yes! This is so fun!"
[Howell laughs for a final time. She says goodbye and hangs up. She is going skiing.]