KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – They stood on the side of a cold mountain in the middle of the night, halfway around the world from where they grew up in Montreal and learned to ski in the Laurentians.
Justine Dufour-Lapointe had won the gold medal in ladies’ moguls, Canada’s first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics. Her sister, Chloé, had won silver. As they were about to take the podium for the flower ceremony – not far from their sister, Maxime, who had finished in the top 12, too – Justine grabbed Chloé’s hand and held it tight.
“Holding the hand of Chloé meant that I wasn’t alone,” Justine said. “I couldn’t imagine I would step up on the first step of the podium. I was in shock, and I saw Chloé, and I felt calm again, and I took her hand. ‘You know what, Chloé? We’ll live that moment together, and it will feel more like home.’ ”
They stepped up together, and they received their flowers, and the music played, and it had actually happened. They had both finished ahead of the United States’ Hannah Kearney – the defending Olympic champion, the top-ranked woman in the world, the heavy favorite – with Maxime right there with them.
Amid the commotion and ceremony, they could hear their parents – Johane Dufour and Yves Lapointe – especially their father, his voice so loud and proud.
“I think they’re just so, so, so happy,” Justine said, laughing. “Even me, I’m not that happy. They went overhappy.”
Wouldn’t you be?
Johane and Yves pressed against a fence, straining to see. They hugged each other and many others. Yves dropped to one knee and played air guitar in celebration at least three times, as Justine, the “Guitar Hero” addict, does on the hill. Yves jumped up and down, staying warm, burning energy.
"Bring me my babies!” Johane yelled.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Yves yelled.
“I’m so anxious to grab my babies,” Johane said.
"That’s my life, those girls!” Yves screamed. “My liii …”
He ran off in mid-word. It sounded like, “Wheee!”
Maxime came to the fence. Johane kissed her on the left cheek, and Yves kissed her on the right, over and over and over again. She was in tears. She was the oldest, 24. She was the one who had started skiing moguls first, the one who inspired the others to do it, but she was the one who had the hardest path to the Olympics. While Justine and Chloé were expected to make the Canadian Olympic team, Maxime exceeded expectations by posting her best career results to earn a spot. “Getting here,” she said, “was almost harder than just competing.”
A technical mistake or two cost her in the Round of 12, and she didn’t advance to the Round of 6 to ski against her sisters for a medal. Yves put his hands on the sides of her face, stared into her eyes and reminded her something in French. He pinched his fingers. It had been this close.
“In those sports, little things count, and today, that’s what it was,” Yves said. “But you know what? She did a hell of a run. She’s an Olympian girl. She’s here. She’s been doing extremely well. So I’m very, very proud of her.”
Maxime admitted mixed emotions, but she said she was just the emotional one. It was not sadness. It was all just coming out.
“The path that we walked, we did it side by side,” Maxime said. Her eyes welled, then tears streamed down her face. “I’ve very proud of them, and I’m lucky because I have the two best in the world to learn from. I can’t ask for more. I’ve been very supportive of them, but they have been just as much supportive of me.”
Someone grabbed Johane and helped her over the fence, even though she wasn’t supposed to hop it. Yves followed. They ran through a thick crowd of people – reporters, officials, coaches and athletes – and found Justine and Chloé.
Justine, 19, ranked second in the world, went third-from-last in the final round. She was aggressive and smooth, and she nailed a 22.44, knowing she had clinched a medal, just not knowing what color.
Chloé, 22, who finished fifth four years ago in Vancouver, came next. She scored a 21.66, knowing she had clinched at least bronze.
It came down to Kearney, who wobbled up top, panicked, separated her skis and opened the door. When Kearney’s score flashed – 21.49 – that meant she had settled for bronze. Justine had won gold and Chloé silver. The Canadian contingent erupted, waving flags as the coaches high-fived.
“It’s awesome,” Justine said. “I’m really proud of my country. The first gold medal for Canada. It’s great, and I will embrace that moment forever. It’s amazing. I can’t believe it right now.”
“You have all the pressure of the world on you,” Chloé said, “and tonight we managed to ski on that.”
Jean-Luc Brassard beamed. He won gold in men’s moguls in 1994 in Lillehammer, and he is the assistant chef de mission in Sochi. He had a long dinner with the sisters this week in the Mountain Olympic Village, and he marveled at how they could have so much fun and focus so well at the same time.
“Everything was structured,” Brassard said. “What happened tonight was not up to [chance]. They had a plan for a long time. That’s what they wanted to achieve. It’s just amazing to see the synergy between all of them, these three sisters.”
It was past midnight when the sisters arrived for their press conference. Justine and Chloé sat on the podium and answered questions, while Maxime sat in the crowd – until Maxime joined them up on stage. When the clock had struck 12 a.m., she had actually turned 25.
“Happy birthday,” Justine said.
They laughed, like they were back home, but this was not the kitchen table in Montreal. This was the Olympics. The press attaché received a phone call. The prime minister was trying to reach them – them.
“Is it one by one,” Justine said. “Or is it a conference call?”