The Canadian ski cross team’s goal is to win two Olympic medals at the Sochi Games in February.
Considering the depth of the squad, that might be a rather conservative number.
The national team is loaded with experienced veterans and rising stars. Anchored by Chris Del Bosco, Brady Leman, Kelsey Serwa and Marielle Thompson, the Canadians enter the season-opening Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup armed with confidence and podium familiarity.
“This weekend I believe we’re fully capable of multiple medals,” said assistant coach Willy Raine. “Every World Cup event we go to, we should have somebody on the podium.”
Raine has reason to be optimistic, considering the stacked resumes of the team members.
Thompson, from Whistler, B.C., won a Crystal Globe last year as overall World Cup champion and took the silver at the 2013 world championship. Serwa, the 2011 world champion from Kelowna, B.C., underwent left knee surgery earlier this year but has recovered and feels ready heading into the season.
Del Bosco, a Montreal resident, won a world title in 2011 and has 18 World Cup career podiums. Leman was ranked No. 2 in the world last year and is also a podium threat with veteran Dave Duncan of London, Ont.
“The bar is set high for us,” Raine said. “We expect it and we’re willing to work hard to (get) the results.”
Canada has won the Nations’ Cup as the No. 1 team on the World Cup circuit in four of the last five years. The squad is looking to build on that momentum when competition begins Friday at the Nakiska Ski Area outside of Calgary.
In ski cross, four skiers race each other down a course of jumps and bumps. Ashleigh McIvor, who retired last year, helped put the sport on the map by winning gold when ski cross made its Olympic debut at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
The Canadian women’s side is rounded out by Georgia Simmerling of West Vancouver, B.C., and Calgary’s Danielle Sundquist. Tristan Tafel of Canmore, Alta., Louis-Pierre Helie of Berthierville, Que., and Mathieu Leduc of Comox, B.C., are the other men’s skiers.
“We push each other,” Del Bosco said. “We’re always trying to one-up each other. It’s a really good environment. It’s going to be a really good year this year.”
Over 120 athletes will be on the slopes this week as they compete for over $80,000 in prize money and the chance to qualify for nomination to their respective Olympic teams.
The qualification criteria for the Canadian team is complicated because ski cross athletes must compete against counterparts in other freestyle disciplines in order to lock up spots for Sochi.
Thompson is the only Canadian to have pre-qualified through method-A criteria, meaning she needs just one top-12 result this season to be all but guaranteed a spot. The Sochi roster is expected to be officially unveiled in mid-January, a few weeks before the Games.
The Nakiska course was put together by Jeff Ihaksi, who also built the ski cross track at the 2010 Olympics. It takes about 90 seconds for racers to go from top to bottom, a time that will likely be the longest on the World Cup circuit this season.
The course was adjusted after the event’s inaugural edition last year. It’s an average of 15 metres wider and has bigger features and a huge jump near the finish.
Race organizers moved the women’s qualification schedule to Thursday afternoon due to the frigid temperatures that were expected Friday morning. Ophelie David of France had the fastest time of one minute 35 seconds on the Mighty Peace course, nearly a half-second ahead of Switzerland’s Fanny Smith.
Simmerling was third in 1:36.17 as all four Canadians made the 32-skier cut. Thompson was seventh in 1:37.19, Serwa was 11th in 1:37.45 and Sundquist was 16th in 1:38.29.
It was sunny but cold Thursday with a temperature of -23 C at qualification time. There was a chance of light snow Friday with a high of -26 C expected in the afternoon.
Smith won the women’s race here last year while David was second. Switzerland’s Armin Niederer took the men’s title.
The men’s qualification round is set for Friday afternoon and the men’s and women’s finals will be held later in the day. A second competition will be held Saturday.
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