Breathtaking Olympics Tribute for Ski Pioneer Sarah Burke

Slippers create a heart shape down the halfpipe after the Freestyle Skiing Ladies' Ski Halfpipe Finals on Feb. 20, 2014 . (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

For years American skier Sarah Burke pushed hard to have freestyle skiing competitions, including halfpipe, included in the Olympics.

When the sport made its Olympics debut Thursday night in Sochi, the skiing community honored its pioneer, who died in a ski accident two years ago at age 29.

In front of a crowd that included Burke's parents and husband, slope workers skiing down the center of the halfpipe after the finals on Thursday formed a heart shape and began clapping and pointing toward the sky as they made their way down the hill as part of the tribute.

The announcer dedicated the night's events to Burke.

"[The tribute was] far beyond what I thought it would be," Gord Burke, Sarah's father, told the AP. "I never really imagined so much love for one person. So much passion and energy."

After the International Olympic Committee banned skiers and snowboarders from wearing Sarah Burke stickers on their apparel or equipment during the games, the athletes decided they would point up at the sky to honor their friend instead.

American Maddie Bowman, who won the gold in the event, joined France's Marie Martinod and Japan's Ayana Onozuka on the podium.

Burke would have been a favorite to win the event if not for the accident.

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