Maëlle Ricker, snowboarder (b at North Vancouver, BC, 2 Dec 1978). Maëlle Ricker is the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in SNOWBOARDING and the first Canadian woman to win Olympic gold on Canadian soil. Ricker began snowboarding as a young child, following her older brother Jörli during visits to Whistler with their family. She began competing on the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup circuit in 1996, placing in the top 3 twice her first season. At the time, snowboarding was a relatively new and edgy sport. Considered extreme, it found a home in venues like the Winter X Games as well as at FIS-sanctioned events. Ricker excelled, winning her first FIS World Cup gold medal in 1998 in snowboard cross, and following that success with gold at the X Games in 1999.
Snowboarding made its OLYMPIC GAMES debut in 1998, and though Ricker's specialty was snowboard cross she entered the halfpipe competition and managed a fifth-place finish. A knee injury prevented her from competing at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, an injury for which she would have 6 surgeries in 4 years. It plagued her during the years leading up to the 2006 Torino Olympics, though she did manage a gold medal finish at the X Games in 2006. Snowboard cross was offered as an Olympic event for the first time in 2006, and Ricker, with nearly a decade of experience behind her, was a strong medal contender. However, a devastating crash during the final run resulted in a severe concussion and her being airlifted off the mountain, though ironically her previous qualifying runs had amounted to a fourth-place Olympic finish overall. Ricker continued competing despite 3 additional knee surgeries in the years that followed, ultimately earning a spot as one of the top-ranked women in the world with 3 World Cup gold medals leading up to the Vancouver Olympics.
Ricker was favoured to win gold going into the 2010 Winter Olympics. Though she fell once during her qualifying run, her second was one of the fastest in the field, and she excelled again in the quarter- and semi-final runs. During the final Ricker led for most of the race, wobbling only slightly before the last jump but still managing to edge ahead of Deborah Anthonioz of France who won silver, and Olivia Nobs of Switzerland, who claimed bronze. In only a decade of snowboarding's inclusion in the Olympics, Maëlle Ricker's gold medal win, along with that of Ross REBAGLIATI at Nagano in 1998 and Mike Robertson's silver in 2010, distinguishes Canada as one of the top countries in the sport at the international level.