Freestyle skiing: Brendan Mackay and the legacy of the Calgary 1988 Winter Games

One measure of the Olympic Movement is its impact long after the Games have left a host city. For the legacy of Calgary 1988, look no further than the Canadian freestyle skier who calls the Canada Olympic Park home. 

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

When freestyle skier Brendan Mackay stomped a 93.40 high octane run to claim his second consecutive first-place finish in the 2021/22 FIS Freestyle World Cup, Calgary swelled with pride.

Against the blaring chinook winds the 24-year-old hometown hero, raised on the infamous Canada Olympic Park halfpipe, had flashed his local knowledge to best the rest.

In the New Year’s Day competition, Mackay took the lead on the first of his three runs, and not one of his competitors was able to steal it back, despite the best efforts of America’s Alex Ferreira and countryman Noah Bowman.

The Canadian’s victory showed that his first-ever World Cup win just one night earlier had not been a fluke, and no one was more delighted with the result than the skier:

“It feels awesome,” Mackay said reflecting on his win. “It’s hard to describe, but I’m just so stoked to have put it down right. It felt great.”

When asked about the winds that exacerbated the bitterly cold conditions, the Alberta native naturally turned to his years of experience:

“I’ve skied this pipe for 15 years and it’s pretty often windy, so I’m pretty used to it.

“A lot of the time you don’t even feel it in the air – it’s more just a mental battle, so I just turned up my music and tried to ignore it, and it worked out.”

READ MORE: Calgary's Snow Rodeo: five things to know

Brendan Mackay of Team Canada competes in the Men's Freeski Halfpipe Final during the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Resort on December 10, 2021
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Brendan Mackay: leading the next generation of Canadian halfpipe hopes

The formula for sporting success is one widely searched but hardly known – it is why only a few make it.

While it was by no means guaranteed that Mackay would become a rising star in Canada’s elite freestyle skiing rungs, the halfpipe skier certainly had a handful of environmental factors nudging him on the way.

For a start, the two-time World Cup winner was born to avid skiing parents, and was on the slopes from the tender age of two.

At age 4, Mackay joined a Nancy Greene ski group – a subsidiary of the Nancy Greene League which inspires young children to get into ski racing, and until the age of 10, he did just that.

When Mackay’s older brother left ski racing for the freestyle disciplines Brendan soon followed and the two joined the freestyle club out of the ski resort just on their doorstep - the Canada Olympic Park.

The venue, built to host the ski jumping, bobsleigh and luge competitions at the 1988 Calgary Olympics overtime has grown into a multi-purpose training and competition facility embracing aspiring athletes like Mackay and pushing them to become something more.

It was there, at the park, that the Canadian began experimenting with freestyle skiing. Dancing between the disciplines, from moguls to slopestyle, Mackay began competing wherever he could.

Eventually the young skier made the call to pour his competitive energy into halfpipe and with thanks to the legacy of the 1988 Games, a bright, young future athlete began to plot of his own Olympic dreams.

Brendan Mackay: Halfpipe & the community feeling

As soon the five-time World Cup podium finisher talks about why he loves the halfpipe it’s easy to understand why it was the event that eventually stole his heart:

“When we’re in the pipe,” Mackay begins to Toyota Canada, there’s not really any limiters on what we can do or what we’re allowed to do other than things we place on ourselves.

“I don’t think there’s anything else that I do that compares to it. It’s a great way to disconnect and find freedom.”

As much as it is about how he individually feels dropping in to then take the skies another aspect of the sport he loves is its community feel. The atmosphere between freeskiers is not unlike the camaraderie the skateboarders displayed at Tokyo 2020 in 2021.

When the chips are down, they know how to compete but outside of events, rivalries quickly slip away, and the focus is on pushing the sport to its limits:

“The pipe skiing community is really small, especially at the highest level. We’re all working on new tricks and progressing together. We’re getting each other stoked and helping each other progress.

“I think the level of progression in skiing is crazy and it’s still going and that’s only possible because we’re all friends and we’re all out together. If everyone was on their own, we wouldn’t be able to feed off each other’s ideas and energy.”

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will run from February 4 to February 20. To find out more about the schedule for the freestyle skiing competitions click here.


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