Olympic ski halfpipe winner Maddie Bowman salutes pioneer Sarah Burke

Olympic ski halfpipe winner Maddie Bowman salutes pioneer Sarah Burke
Maddie Bowman celebrates after her final run of the women's freestyle halfpipe finals Thursday. Bowman won gold in the event. (Franck Fife / Getty Images)

SOCHI, Russia -- Was the late Sarah Burke the real winner of the women's halfpipe Thursday night?

Twenty-year-old Maddie Bowman of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., didn't hesitate when asked that question on the night she won the gold medal in the first women's free ski halfpipe event at the Olympics.

"I would absolutely say that. Sarah's inspired us on snow and off snow," Bowman said. "I think she would have been very proud of how all the girls rode tonight.

"I sure hope I and everyone else made her proud because we would not be here without her."

Burke, of Canada, was one of the leaders in the push to get the freestyle skiing events into the Olympics. She died in a training accident two years ago and the skiers here wanted to honor her by wearing decals on their helmets but were prevented by the IOC from doing so.

Said silver medalist Marie Martinod of France: "I'm thinking of Sarah every day. I think I didn't say goodbye to Sarah yet and I still have to do it. Now I feel like I am able to do it because I did what she asked me to do when I last saw her two years ago."

Rosalind Groenewoud of Canada, another Burke protege, had hoped to reach the podium after finishing second at the X Games late last month to Bowman. She fell on her first run and scored 74.20 on the second, finishing seventh.

Bowman admitted to feeling a major attack of nerves before the first run in the final.

"This doesn't really seem real to me," Bowman said. "Before I was dropping in, I felt like I was going to barf on my first run. By the second run, I had calmed down a little bit and it worked out."

The other Americans struggled, including one of the medal favorites, Brita Sigourney, who crashed hard on her first run, as did Angeli VanLaanen, while Annalisa Drew fell on her second run.

Sigourney was sixth and Drew and VanLaanen finished ninth and 11th, respectively.