PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) – Philippe Marquis needed something to take his mind off the searing pain in his right knee. The knee with the torn anterior cruciate ligament. The knee with surgery scheduled for next month. The knee that for years has been a vital shock absorber during Marquis’ rise to one of the best moguls skiers on the planet.
So the Canadian grabbed his gloves and a Sharpie and started writing. He scribbled “Engage” on his left thumb, “Fire” on his right thumb and added “What ACL” and “Keep Fighting” on the underside of his wrists because, hey, he was on a roll.
Usually, the 28-year-old from Quebec isn’t into self-help stuff. He hasn’t needed it during a career that’d been largely devoid of injury until one bad bounce in Utah last month that left his ACL shredded and his Olympics very much in doubt.
Still, there Marquis was in the starting gate at Phoenix Snow Park on Friday morning during Olympic qualifying, his mere presence a testament to his own stubbornness, the expert care of the Canadian medical staff and copious amounts of tape.
During the ensuing 250-meter sprint through a series of rock-hard bumps – with a pair of jumps thrown in for good measure – Marquis focused only on his form and his hands, the ones with the reminders of why he’s here in the first place.
Fire. Engage. Fight.
“No weak moments,” Marquis said. “No moment where I’m just doing nothing. It sounds stupid but it’s easy for a millisecond to be kind of just like ‘flow,’ but for me I’ve got to be engaged and committed to what I do.”
Only at the finish line following an aggressively elegant 26.12-second sprint did Marquis relax, raising his gloved hands to the sky and taking just a moment to realize how insane this whole thing is in the first place. A month ago he never imagined he’d be here. Now he’s assured of a spot in the finals.
“I couldn’t miss the big show,” Marquis said.
Marquis laughed as he talked, a stark contrast to the clouds that gathered after he felt the twinge in his knee in Deer Valley, Utah last month. Though he immediately made the decision to delay surgery until after the Olympics, doubt festered. Anger too as he watched his teammates, including good friend and heavy gold medal favorite Mikael Kingsbury, continue their preparations for the Games without him.
Asked to describe the last month, Marquis used words like “haunting” and “bitter.”
“I was boiling inside,” he said.
Marquis tried to stay sharp, getting on his skis when he could and trying to visualize the Olympic course. His teammates and family did their best to put things in perspective. As antsy as he was to go hell-bent down the mountain, they reminded him his only chance was to rest, rehab and hope.
“They were like, ‘You’re not going to save the world, you’re not going to like go out there and destroy everything and just kill it. You’ve got to follow your plan and that’s the only way you might have a shot at doing something you’ll remember,'” Marquis said. “And I think I just did.”
It was a performance that left a six-time world champion at a loss.
“Oh my God, I think I was more nervous for him than I was for my run,” Kingsbury said. “It’s not easy to go down that course without an ACL.”
Or any course, really.
While it’s possible to walk with a torn ACL, moving laterally is nearly impossible. The ACL provides stability and support, two things vitally important for skiers whose knees are required to move side-to-side in unison as they navigate bump after bump designed to slow them down or send them tumbling poles over helmet.
And yet Marquis made his run on Friday look like just another day on the mountain. It wasn’t. And he knows it.
“I look at the course right now and I don’t really want to go ski it again,” Marquis said as he watched the rest of the 30-man field finish up qualifying. “It hurts just thinking about it.”
Still, he will be back out there for the finals on Monday. While reaching the podium seems like a long shot, Marquis doesn’t particularly care. He’s here.
“In my head I’ve got one more day, couple more runs and I’ll go do surgery at the end of the month and turn the page on the Olympics and have great memories,” he said. “That’s something I’ll look back on in a couple months, couple years and I’ll be so satisfied, so blessed that I fought the whole way.”
The proof is right there on his gloves.