KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – When Nik Zoricic began his skicross career, he didn't have the right pants, so he wore blue jeans to the mountain.
That explains why members of the Canadian team, who would normally be dressed head-to-toe in red and white, designed denim-looking ski pants for their Olympic race Thursday.
Zoricic, the Canadian who died after an accident on the skicross course in March 2012, would have been 31 on Wednesday.
"Nik will always be with us," said his longtime friend, David Duncan, who exited in the first round, but still glanced at the Olympic rings, then upward, throwing a salute to his good friend.
As a tribute to Zoricic, Duncan has a tattoo on his right shoulder: It's a picture of skis and poles forming a cross, along with Zoricic's birthday.
"Nik's been with me every day ever since the accident," Duncan said. "I think about him all the time."
Zoricic crashed through safety nets in a World Cup event, suffered severe head injuries and died in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Two months earlier, Canadian freeskier Sarah Burke died in a training accident.
"I would've loved to have walked away with a victory or a podium toady and saluted him like I love to do," Duncan said. "It was just not in the cards today. I know he's still proud.
"As long as he's not forgotten, he's still with us."
His teammates plastered "Ski for Nik" stickers at the start house and at the bottom.
"Nik won't be forgotten," said David Ellis, the athletic director for the Canadian skicross squad. "He's looking down on us, for sure."
No doubt appreciating those ski pants, too.
— By Pat Graham — Twitter http://twitter.com/pgraham34
Associated Press reporters are filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter: http://apne.ws/1c3WMiu.