Maëlle Ricker wasn’t about to let a broken arm keep her out of the 2014 Sochi Olympics and a chance to defend her gold medal in snowboard cross.
“I haven’t changed my expectations at all,” Ricker said Thursday.
She broke her forearm during training for the Winter X Games last month, and had surgery Jan. 28 in Colorado. “It was a bit of a nasty break, but it wasn’t in a joint and I still have good grip strength. So as far as that goes, there are a lot of positives,” she said.
Ricker comes into Sochi as the current world champion and one of the favourites, along with teammate Dominique Maltais, American Lindsey Jacobellis and Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic. Ricker won this event at the 2010 Vancouver Games, becoming the first Canadian woman to win gold on home soil.
While her rehabilitation has gone well, she’ll compete wearing a splint, something she has never done before. On Thursday she insisted it won’t slow her down or alter her start, which is all-important in snowboard cross and one of the strongest parts of her racing.
But even if she doesn’t get off to a good start, the course in Sochi is longer than most competitions, meaning there is some time to catch up.
“I think you are going to see a lot of people coming from behind, a lot of drafting,” Ricker said. “There are a lot of areas, not necessarily where you can generate speed, but there are a lot of areas where you can make mistakes. Because of that there is going to be a lot of movement in the placings between the riders.”
Snowboard cross looks a bit like mayhem on snow, with six riders flying down a 1,250-metre course, negotiating eight turns and a series of jumps. The number of racers has increased from four at the Vancouver Olympics.
The adjustment to the bigger field hasn’t been easy, but Ricker and the rest of the Canadian team say they are used to it.
“I didn’t like it when I started racing with six people, but it has been two years now, and I’m used to racing six people now, so it’s no problem,” Maltais said. “It’s just making a better show.”
Maltais, too, arrived in Sochi recovering from an injury she suffered at the X Games (her knee). “Mentally, I’m ready to go,” she said. “The only thing I have to do is 30 runs [at the Olympic competition] and I’m ready to race. Even with pain.”
On the men’s side, Chris Robanske of Canada is considered a favourite, particularly in the absence of Seth Wescott, the two-time Olympic champion who was left off the American team. Robanske said the field is far too close for anyone to be considered a shoe-in.
As for the impact of the recent mild weather in Sochi, where temperatures in the mountains have climbed to 14 C, Robanske said it won’t be a problem.
“We expected it to be either warm and sunny, or warm and rainy and wet,” he said, adding riders are used to racing in warm conditions. “We’re prepared for it. … We want to put on the best show possible.”