Justine Dufour-Lapointe: Iconic Olympic photo defines sisterhood bond

Yahoo Canada Sports
The iconic photo: Sisters Justine (R) and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe celebrate their gold and silver medals at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (Getty Images)
The iconic photo: Sisters Justine (R) and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe celebrate their gold and silver medals at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (Getty Images)

Editor’s note: Justine Dufour-Lapointe is the 2014 Olympic gold medallist in moguls and one of three sisters to compete in the Sochi Winter Games. Her accomplishments also include winning gold, silver and two bronze medals at the World Championships. Justine and her sister Chloe will return to Olympic competition as part of Canada’s freestyle ski team in South Korea, where they’ll be supported by older sister Maxime.

The photo. That’s what people ask me about the most. The picture of my sister Chloe and me, hand-in-hand, gazing at each other on the Olympic podium in Sochi. I had just won the gold medal in women’s moguls and Chloe had won silver. We were about to receive bouquets of flowers during the victory ceremony.

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Although it’s been described as the “feel good” moment of the 2014 Sochi Games, people want to know why I took her hand when I’d won gold and it was my moment.

It’s a strange question for me. I remember so clearly, being there, in front of this huge podium, thinking this is happening, my dream is coming true. And when you know that you’re going to live, for real, the dream that you’ve imagined, it can be really, really scary. It can be overwhelming.

I turned my head and when I saw Chloe, I said “I’m going to jump on the podium, but I’m not alone, because we did this together. We put in so much work, so much sacrifice, to get there, so let’s enjoy this together.” So I grabbed her hand and it just kept me grounded.

And standing there, despite all the madness and chaos, I swear I could hear my family — my mum and dad and my sister Maxime, who competed earlier and finished 12th — yelling in the crowd.

Olympic gold medallist Justine Dufour-Lapointe says she wouldn’t be where she is without the wisdom and support of her older sisters. (Getty Images/Yahoo Sports)
Olympic gold medallist Justine Dufour-Lapointe says she wouldn’t be where she is without the wisdom and support of her older sisters. (Getty Images/Yahoo Sports)

What does it mean to be Olympic? To me it’s sisterhood and everything that it represents. Having my sisters with me, through everything, is the best thing that could have happened to me. They support me, they help me. I help them when they have problems. We’re stronger together than we are apart. This type of support system is what helps all of us, in sports and in life.

Looking back now, almost four years later, Sochi still seems a little unreal. It was more than amazing — it was more than we ever could have dreamed. And I know if it wasn’t for my sisters, I never would have been there.

Nobody can tear down a triangle

I grew up in Montreal and my parents were active parents, always wanting us to take part in sports. Every weekend, we’d drive to the Laurentians to ski. I took my first lessons when I was three. I was young — just four years old – and my sisters were older than me. Chloe was seven and Maxime was nine, and they just wanted to ski all day and have fun in the trees. But I’d get tired! I was four years old!

My mum wanted to keep everyone happy, so she’d bribe me to keep skiing. She’d offer me a chocolate, and say “Come on, one more, one more.” So, of course, I’d keep skiing. At the end of the season she got a surprise when we went to the dentist and learned I had some problems with my teeth. Too much sugar during the winter, the dentist said.

Fortunately for my teeth, she didn’t have to bribe me again. All I wanted to do was ski, just like my sisters.

I’m the youngest and when you’re the youngest you just want to follow your older sisters because you think they’re cool, you think they’re nice and beautiful, and you want to be just like them. I watched them skiing and I just wanted to follow them.

The Dufour-Lapointe sisters appeared in the Canadian Olympic Committee’s new “Be Olympic” campaign unveiled ahead of the Winter Games. (Courtesy COC)
The Dufour-Lapointe sisters appeared in the Canadian Olympic Committee’s new “Be Olympic” campaign unveiled ahead of the Winter Games. (Courtesy COC)

Maxime was the one who got me interested in moguls. She watched a freestyle moguls competition, decided it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen, and joined a club when she was 12. Chloe and I got to watch her compete. She was so happy and doing all these tricks — she looked so cool. So a year later, I decided, “Me, too, I want to do the same.” Chloe did, too. I was eight years old, and that’s how I got involved in the sport.

From that point on, we competed together, trained together and travelled together. At one point, in our teens, we were driving two-and-a-half hours to Lake Placid every weekend, camping in a tent, so we could train. We were the travelling sisterhood. To this day, I still room with them — in hotels now — and I train at the gym with them. We’re really, really close. We share so much stuff about our lives. Every single day, we’re out there doing something together.

It hasn’t always been easy. While I thought my sisters were really cool when I was young, I reached a point where I wanted to be myself and to do my own thing. But my mother said to me, “Justine, you can have ex-friends, ex-boyfriends, but you can’t have ex-sisters. You will have your sisters for the rest of your life. Don’t you want to get along with them?” And then she told me that if we stick together, and hold each other up, we actually form a triangle. And do you know what? Nobody can tear down a triangle, because it’s a form of support.

We are a package deal, it’s the way it is and it’s the way that our parents felt was true to our values, which are family values.

‘It’s not all about skiing’

We’re not the same, we’re different and sometimes we argue. It’s normal, we are sisters. But my mum told us never to go to bed mad at each other. And she always told us to start a sentence with “I need” or “I feel”. It’s not always comfortable talking about our feelings, but we have to.

The reason we work so well together is the fact we’re really, really different. For example, Maxime, she’s the intellectual one. She’s rationale. She’s thinking-first. She’s really calm and when I need to make decisions, I go to Maxime for sure. Chloe is in touch with her emotions. She’s precise, really into details. When I ski, I’m like a Jack Russell terrier, like a tiger. I’m intense.

But we have fun together. We laugh. It’s not all about skiing. We love fashion. We are addicts to clothing, makeup, hair. We are not just athletes, we are girls who are athletes.

Having us all together in Sochi made it easier for me. There was so much going on and I was so young, just 19. Chloe already had Olympic experience. She finished fifth in Vancouver in 2010, so she knew what the pressure would be like and she helped us. We were doing our stretches every night, writing in our journals, laughing about our day and telling jokes — it felt like home! Because they were there, supporting me through the event, I felt so good. It almost didn’t feel like the biggest event of my life.

During the competition, I was able to focus entirely on my race. I had this fighter inside of me. I thought to myself, ‘You’re a fighter, you’re a tiger. This is my moment. This is my day.’

People are always asking if there is a lot of competition between us, and the answer is no. Whatever I am doing, it’s me who did it, so I can’t be mad at them if they do better than me. We always respect that — my mum taught that to us. If you did your best, then the best one will win. And my dad told us that they will always be proud of us, no matter what, so we can never really lose.

I love to be on the podium. But I’m happy when one of my sisters is doing well and ends up on the podium, too. I’m cheering for her. And on the other side, they’re cheering for me. We try to challenge each other, but in a good way. That, to me, is what it means to be Olympic.

We enjoy what’s going on right now because we know that it’s unique, so we cherish it. And as my mum told us, we’ll only ski for a while, but we’ll be sisters forever.

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