Paula Cooper at Youth Olympics: Big day ends on podium | VailDaily.com

Paula Cooper at Youth Olympics: Big day ends on podium

Paula Cooper
Special to the Daily

LILLEHAMMER, Norway — Local student Paula Cooper, 17, is representing the U.S. at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Norway as the only female from the U.S. to compete in the ski halfpipe competition Sunday. She attends Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy and skis for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. She is writing dispatches from Norway for the Vail Daily.

Sunday

Today was the day I have been waiting for — competition day. I arrived at the mountain toward the end of the snowboarders' contest, where my teammates Chloe Kim, Jake Pates and Nik Baden, all podiumed.

With the U.S. dominating, we joked about the pressure it put on the skiers. I stood at the bottom with my mom and sister and the Pates family. Charlie Sue, Jake's sister, has been one of my best friends for several years, and it meant a lot to have her there, as well as my family. They helped calm my nerves, making jokes and laughing with me.

Before I knew it, it was 12:30 p.m. and I had half an hour to practice before my three final runs. I stood at the top, took a deep breath and dropped into the pipe. I skied as many laps as I could and landed my run twice. I was ready to compete.

The atmosphere at the start house was friendly. I wished luck to my competitors and began visualizing my run. This season did not have a good start for me, with some bad crashes and not landing tricks to my best ability. I put a certain amount of pressure on myself.

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It was my turn. I dropped in. With adrenaline pumping through my body, my first two runs felt like a blur. I landed both, scoring higher on my second run, keeping me in position for a silver medal. My third run I crashed, but I got up with a smile on my face and skied to my mom on the fence to give her a huge hug.

With a spot on the podium secured, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders as I joined my teammates in the athlete lounge. But the day wasn't over for the United States team. The men's ski halfpipe contest began with the sun setting on the horizon. My teammate Birk Irving took gold, raising the medal count for the U.S. by yet another gold.

The excitement continued with the award ceremony and questions from the press. I slept the best I ever have after a day that created memories that will last me a lifetime.