PARK CITY — The skier wearing bib No. 5 skied down the center of the Park City halfpipe without throwing a single trick.
By the time Simon Dumont skied into the finish area, the crowd of more than 5,000 fans was cheering and applauding as if he’d just thrilled them with the gold medal run at the final U.S. Grand Prix Saturday night.
They weren’t just being polite.
They were trying to say thank you to a pioneer.
Dumont couldn’t hide his disappointment, and after fighting for years to help his sport gain acceptance into the Olympic family, no one blamed him. It was an effort that was both inspiring and heartbreaking.
The 27-year-old owns medals in nearly every competition available to freeskiers, but there was one prize he repeatedly said he yearned to win — an Olympic medal. The final two qualifying events were held this weekend at Park City Mountain Resort, and Dumont sat in fourth place with three spots still up for grabs.
Even the men battling for those same spots said no one deserved one more than Dumont.
“I wanted Simon to make the team more than anybody,” said 22-year-old Gus Kenworthy, who made the U.S. Olympic team in ski slopestyle and is being considered for the fourth and final spot after his third-place finish Saturday night. “A huge part of the fact that I’m in this sport is because of Simon. He’s gone from someone who’s been a role model to someone who’s a teammate and a friend. I was really pulling for him. It was just really difficult to see him get hurt (Friday) night. To watch him ski tonight, not at his full potential, it took it out of me. It was hard.”
Before Dumont got the chance to prove that “Papa Dumont” still has what it takes to beat the young guns, he tore his ACL and was unable to compete in Friday’s event.
Officials said he wouldn’t compete Saturday, but he showed up and gave it his best effort on his first of two runs. Judges gave him a score of 72.20 points, which was only good enough for 12th place on a night when 19-year-old Lyman Currier won the event with a score of 92.60.
On his second run, he simply skied straight down the pipe, which may have confused some. Why ski at all if you can’t compete?
“He’s a machine,” said Sue Bowman, mother to newly named Olympian Maddie Bowman, the top-ranked U.S. woman in ski halfpipe. “There is no way he was going to go out sitting down. That’s not Simon. He was going to go out just throwing it down.”
It’s hard to sum up all that Dumont has given to freeskiing. He told the Deseret news two years ago that he left the structure of gymnastics for the freedom of freeskiing when he was young because it allowed him to be creative. The sport is whatever the athletes want it to be.
Dumont was vocal telling reporters he didn’t understand how IOC officials could take snowboarding and not freeskiing when they were such similar sports — even competing on the same courses (slopestyle and halfpipe). When IOC representatives traveled to Park City in 2011 to watch the sport's first sanctioned World Championship, the weather was so bad many athletes said they wouldn't have skied if the Olympics weren't on the line. On the men's podium was Dumont, who earned bronze.
He was organized, helping to develop a board of directors and an athlete ranking system that would incorporate competitions outside U.S. and FIS official events.
His hope was that the sport that thrived on independence and creativity could maintain its essence while gaining the advantages that come with mainstream acceptance.
He wasn’t alone in his fight.
U.S. athletes including reigning slopestyle world champion Tom Walisch, Jen Hudak and Grete Eliassen all stood with him as they tried to convince officials who didn’t even understand the sport why it belonged in the Olympic family. Hudak, who earned silver in that 2011 World Championship event, injured her knee, which ended her quest for Olympic glory, and Eliassen and Walisch can only make the team through the coaches’ discretionary picks.
Hudak made her way around Saturday night’s podium ceremony on crutches. She said it’s difficult to know she may never make an Olympic team, but she’s choosing to focus on what they did accomplish.
“It’s really hard,” she said of knowing the first-ever U.S. Olympic freeskiing team could be without any of those who fought so hard to gain acceptance. “It’s hard for the sport, but I have to believe there is some bigger meaning in it. We were strong people, and to believe in something that didn’t exist and to break down barriers and boundaries and walls time after time, it takes a special person. The work that Simon, Tom and Grete have done, you know, it’s making things happen.”
As the sport continues to grow and evolve, she said, they all know the parts they played, the contributions they made.
“We just have to have faith that it is all going to work out,” Hudak said. “To be taken out by injury is certainly not what I was hoping for. But I gave it all I had, and honestly, it’s such an honor to be here and to watch history in the making, and to know, even if it’s only in my heart and my mind, that I played a little piece in making all of these kids’ dreams come true. I’m excited for all of them, and for the future of freeskiing.”
The future of their sport is in the hands of a sport that favors the young. Lyman Currier, 19, and Aaron Blunck, 17, were the top two finishers Saturday, and those results secured their spots on the team.
David Currier, a former Alpine skier who went to the Olympics in 1972, is on the board of directors for freeskiing and said the fact that those pioneers didn’t make the team doesn’t change the generosity of their efforts.
“It doesn’t diminish their careers or their contributions,” he said. “In some ways, it elevates them.”
His son, like most of the young men who competed in that pipe this weekend, have felt the influence of Dumont in a very visceral way.
Lyman Currier was just 13 when he met the man he’d idolized.
“I sort of pushed him into being a forerunner, and he thought it was a great idea until he got up on the hill with all these pros, saw the TV cameras, the fencing, the people, and he got stage fright,” David Currier said. “He was standing off to the side for practice. He was scared to drop in because all the pros were dropping in and he couldn’t find a place to do it and feel comfortable.” David suspects that Dumont asked someone why the little guy was standing alone on the side of the halfpipe.
“Simon slipped down to him and skied over and said, ‘Hey, Lyman, I’m Simon Dumont. Let’s take a few laps through the pipe,’ ” David said. “To have this guy, his complete and utter idol in the sport, come up to him and do that was such a seminal moment for him.” In a press conference announcing the historic freeskiing team, the athletes were asked which skiers they’d be thinking of when they finally got the chance to compete in the Olympic Games.
“Simon Dumont was a huge innovator for our sport,” Blunck said. “He went down with a blown ACL yesterday, and it was a really heartbreaking moment for a lot of us. He’s gotten the sport as far as he could. We can’t thank him enough. So thank you, Simon.”