Each year the BC Sports Hall of Fame awards two athletic scholarships to BC’s top graduating high school student athletes. The BC Sports Hall of Fame has offered the Jack Farley Youth Sports Achievement Award for close to two decades. Never before has the importance of this gentle financial nudge toward greatness been so clear because never before has a youth scholarship winner returned as a full-fledged BC Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
In 1996, a young seven-sport phenom from West Vancouver’s Sentinel Secondary named Maëlle Ricker won the Farley Award. At that time she was a former BC Summer Games athlete, national level sprinter and snowboarder, captain of her school’s soccer and basketball teams, and the North Shore’s all-star field hockey goaltender.
Within two years, Ricker represented Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano during snowboarding’s Olympic debut finishing fifth in the halfpipe. Tonight she returns to the occasion where first honoured, this time as a world champion snowboarder and Canada’s first female athlete to win an Olympic gold medal on home snow.
Growing up in West Vancouver and now living in Squamish, Ricker first took to the slopes after her older brother Jörli. She remembers her first time snowboarding on Mount Seymour with boots too small for her bindings, so she threw her dad’s size twelve sorels over top and off she went.
Starting out at Blackcomb Snowboard Club on weekends under the guidance of coach Ben Wainwright, Ricker’s rise was nothing short of remarkable. Local Whistler/Blackcomb events led to her World Cup debut in 1996 and a spot on the Canadian national snowboard team by 1997. Then the stars aligned for Nagano and her Olympic debut. It wasn’t the last time fate appeared on her side.
Hard road stood in her way however. Ricker overcame a Bobby Orr-like eight separate knee surgeries with a training regimen rivaling that of any high-performance athlete in the country. At the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, she narrowly missed a snowboard cross medal finishing fourth in the event’s Olympic debut, although requiring an airlift off the mountain after suffering a concussion during a crash. As early as waking up in the helicopter, Ricker’s mind was made up. Vancouver 2010 was now the goal: be the world’s best in her own backyard.
She threw herself into training and the results showed. By 2010, the fourteen-year national team veteran accumulated fourteen career victories and thirty-two podium finishes in 106 starts. She added boarder cross gold and bronze medals to her earlier 1999 Winter X Games gold. In 2008, she claimed the World Cup overall title in snowboard cross.
Two days after Alex Bilodeau’s historic gold medal, Ricker followed suit with one of her own. Overcoming a disastrous first qualifying run in which she fell, Ricker stormed back in the quarters and semis and led wire-to-wire in the final at foggy Cypress Mountain. The next night over 20,000 proud Canadians at BC Place Stadium celebrated her gold medal presentation. And if winning Olympic gold at home wasn’t enough, a month later Ricker locked up the World Cup Overall title as the topper on her dream 2010 season.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.