LEYSIN — Calgary skier Andrew Longino won the mens’ halfpipe ski event Tuesday to capture Canada’s first gold medal at the Youth Olympics in Switzerland.
His key to golden success? The sweet sounds of Elton John.
Just before dropping into the halfpipe at the Leysin Park and Pipe venue for his final run, Longino was blasting Elton John’s Rocketman into his headphones, the music simultaneously calming him and motivating him before laying down the best performance of the day.
“I usually listen to rap before my runs but on the flight over I watched the Rocketman movie. It pumped me up,” Longino said. “I’m getting into the Elton John now. Rocketman blasting off. That’s me. It’s my new favourite song. It got me fired up.”
Longino twisted and turned his body as he launched out of the halfpipe, spinning his skis and shooting himself into the air along the sunbathed Swiss Alps.
On this memorable day the 17-year-old wasn’t going to be beat, in a different skiing stratosphere and rocketing to the top of the podium. His final run score of 94.00 was eight points better than the next competitor.
“It’s amazing. I’m so grateful to have this experience,” Longino said. “Winning is an amazing bonus. I’m super happy to be able to represent my country.”
Less than 24 hours before Longino’s golden performance on Tuesday, he failed to qualify for the men’s freeski slopestyle event, finishing 17th out of 26.
But instead of letting the disappointment set the tone for the rest of his Games, Longino embraced the moment and refocused for the halfpipe.
“I’ve been watching sports my whole life. The Olympics. To wear the maple leaf on my chest is just a really special feeling,” he said Monday after his final qualification run.
But on Tuesday, with his mother Sally, father Dave, and grandfather Dave Thomas all in attendance watching, Longino skied to gold.
Longino started skiing when he was nine. Sally said it’s been remarkable to watch her son complete and said she’s never seen her son so excited for a competition.
“The day before he left for the Youth Olympics, he told me this was the most excited he’s been in his life,” she said.
Before every competition throughout his life, she sends her son a note of good luck. Tuesday was no different.
“All I tell him is to have some fun out there, my boy, and that I love you. I text him that every morning. He doesn’t respond. He just knows that I’m thinking about him,” she said.
Andrew says it means the world to him to have the support of his parents.
“They both text me this morning. My dad told me I shouldn’t be nervous and that he’s proud of me regardless of what happens,” Longino said. “I can’t believe I just won gold at the Youth Olympics with them watching.”