It looked like a medal was en route to Canada in the men’s ski cross race. Three Canadians were seeded at the top of an enormous pack of skiers going into the one-eighth finals. The audience stands were thick with Canadians, waving flags in anticipation of a podium finish.
But this is ski cross, a thrilling but nasty sport that looks like a roller derby on boards. It’s easy to take a high-speed tumble, land on your butt after a jump launches you into space or crash into a competitor.
That’s what happened to Brady Leman, who made it into the final with three others, got tangled with another skier and went down not far from the finish line. He would not have won gold, but he was picking up speed and could have taken silver or bronze.
In a clean sweep, the medals all went to France. Jean Frederic Chapuis won gold, Arnaud Boloventa silver and Jonathan Midol bronze.
No, the French trio did not conspire to shut out poor Leman.
“We didn’t have a strategy,” Chapuis said. “There are three places for the podium, there is one loser place. We are friends off the slopes, but on the slopes we are enemies so I tried to make my best."
Leman, who is 27 and from Calgary, was close to morose. “I feel I belong on the podium and that’s what I expected for myself,” he said. “I had the confidence to go for the win in the final.”
Leman battled his way through the elimination rounds like a gladiator. Colleagues Christopher Del Bosco, who had been seeded second, and David Duncan, seeded sixth, didn’t make it into the quarter-finals after races that looked like a demolition derby at times, much to the approval of the audience (in one race, three competitors simultaneously crashed just before the finish line).
His mistake was too much speed near the bottom of the course, not too little, as he was coming from behind. “I caught up with [one of the French skiers] almost too quick,” he said. “I ended up on his tails and when you tangle like that, especially from behind, you usually lose.”
Leman was hoping to make up for a miserable experience in Vancouver in 2010. A day before he was to race, he crashed and messed up his right leg and the rod that was implanted in it. Overcoming injuries, he won bronze in the 2010 Winter X Games in Aspen and was second in the 2010-11 world cup ski cross standings.
His coach, Eric Archer, was said that “traffic jams” often mean the best skiers don’t win.
“We didn’t have a lot of luck today,” he said. “We got into a lot of tangles…Any time you get into a situation like that you’ve got to scramble and that’s the nature of the sport.”