ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Life has been relentless for Meryeta O'Dine over the past four years. She's overcome personal tragedy, brutal injuries, and professional turmoil.
Through it all, the Canadian never stopped believing in herself.
O'Dine's self-confidence paid off on Wednesday as she won bronze in snowboard cross at the Beijing Olympics. The 24-year-old from Prince George, B.C., held off Australia's Belle Brockhoff in the big final to claim a place on the podium.
"Through everything that I've been through in the past four years I've always had a strong head on my shoulders," said O'Dine. "I've believed in myself, that everything is going to come back around and you can achieve your goals."
Veteran Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States crossed the finish line in front to win her first Olympic title in her fifth Games. Chloe Trespeuch of France took silver.
O’Dine's Olympic debut was supposed to be at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games but she suffered a concussion two days before her event, the fifth concussion of her career and the first major setback of the past four years.
She suffered another catastrophic injury in March 2019, sustaining a compression fracture in her T3 vertebrae at a World Cup event in Sierra Nevada, Spain. It was a season-ending injury that took months to recover from and led to her exploring other snowboard disciplines.
Then, as the world was shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, O'Dine lost her brother Brandon to cancer. That personal tragedy deeply affected O'Dine's mental health as she struggled with anxiety and depression.
Between grieving the death of her brother and the logistical complications of international competition during the pandemic, O'Dine didn't race for a year, returning to the World Cup circuit in January 2021.
"Wow, there's honestly been so many challenges," said O'Dine. "I broke my back. I got a terrible concussion at the last Olympics. My brother passed away, that was super tragic.
"There's been a lot that's happened over the past four years that have made me a stronger person through breaking down different barriers."
Finally, taking inspiration from bobsled pilot Kaillie Humphries who changed her citizenship to switch from the Canadian to American Olympic teams, O'Dine changed coaches.
Still a member of Canada's national snowboarding team, she now trains with British Columbia's snowboard cross team where she first got her start in the sport.
"You don't have to be stuck in the environment that you're in if it's not working for you," said O'Dine. "It might work for some people and be amazing but just because it's working for them doesn't mean that it's going to be working for you."
Tess Critchlow of Big White, B.C., was sixth after finishing second in the small final, besting 2018 Olympic champion Michela Moioli who did not finish the penultimate race of the day.
O'Dine's is Canada's third snowboard medal of the Games, after Max Parrot of Bromont, Que., won gold and Regina's Mark McMorris took bronze in the men's slopestyle.
The 36-year-old Jacobellis captured the United States' first gold medal in Beijing a full 16 years after a mistake cost her the title.
Up until Wednesday, Jacobellis was best known for taking a massive lead into the final jump at the 2006 Turin Games but pulling on her board in a showboat move as she rode over the crest, then falling and settling for silver.
Jacobellis said that she didn't see Wednesday's gold medal as redemption for that infamous moment.
"I never thought of it that way, that was not in my mind. I wanted to just come here and compete," she said. "It would have been a nice, sweet thing, but I think if I had tried to spend (time on) the thought of redemption, then it's taking away focus on the task at hand, and that's not why I race."
This time, she rode hard all the way to the line to beat Trespeuch and O'Dine.
-- With files from The Associated Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2022.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press