O’Brien placed third in the first of two qualifying heats on Thursday with a score of 82.75. First place went to Isabel Derungs of Switzerland, who scored an 87.50 in the first heat.
“It’s really nerve-racking to do qualifiers,” O’Brien told CBC Sports. “When I strapped in, it hit me how much work I have done to get here. I think it is a wonderful thing to celebrate this sport. I’m really excited for the world to see what we do.”
“It’s been a bit of a difficult course, but it’s what we do for a living,” O’Brien, who is Haida/Kwakwakw’wakw, told the CBC. “That’s the beauty of slopestyle. The courses are never the same.”
There are only two heats in the women’s slopestyle event and the top four competitors in each event advance to the finals, which is on Sunday afternoon. All 23 boarders who competed on Thursday advanced to the semifinals, but O’Brien has moved directly to the finals.
Sam McCracken, a member of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes and the general manager of the Nike N7 program, in which O’Brien is one of several Native ambassadors, predicted that she would be a gold medalist at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
CBC snowboard analyst Craig McMorris watched O’Brien compete in the qualifying heat on Thursday and said that she was confident.
“Calm, cool, collected. [She] didn’t bring out her biggest tricks and still made it into the finals,” he said. “[Though she was] second place in her heat. She has much bigger tricks to pull out for the finals.”
O’Brien, who has said that her Haida/Kwakwakw’wakw heritage is a very big part of her life, learned to ski at 3, snowboard at 11. Today she’s on the Nike snowboarding team.
“I’d been looking to give back … inspire other people to go after their dreams,” O’Brien told ICTMN in April 2013. “Just being at this Summit I’ve already made plans to speak to other tribal communities.”