Maëlle Ricker is confident she’ll be able to defend her women’s snowboard cross gold medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
The 35-year-old from West Vancouver, B.C., broke her wrist in training Jan. 28 and required surgery to repair the compound fracture.
“I’ve been training everyday, I’ve been doing physio everyday. My arm is getting better and better, it’s getting more range and getting the swelling out,” Ricker said during a conference call Wednesday. “Everybody’s done such an amazing job just as a team, as a whole support network to get me out the door and get me on the plane Saturday to get me over to Russia.”
Snowboard cross involves four athletes racing down a course at the same time, often jockeying for position. Ricker’s accident happened when she lost her balance during a training run on the X Games course in Vail, Colo.
“It was in a section that I’ve ridden dozens of times previous to that run. It was nothing new or surprising. I didn’t control my speed as I should have,” said Ricker, who won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “I did the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do — I put my arm out to break the fall and unfortunately it broke me.”
Despite having a bone sticking of the side of her arm that “was crazy looking” less than three weeks before she was scheduled to compete in Sochi, Ricker said she was never concerned about her ability to participate.
“I wasn’t worried about that because I had so much support and reassurance right away that I was getting the absolute best medical care on the planet,” she said. “I definitely felt that support and reassurance right away.”
Ricker said she won’t get back on her snowboard until she reaches Sochi. She expects there to be some pain when she competes, mainly at the top of the course when she pulls herself out of the start gate.
She said some of the exercises she’s been doing since the injury involve simulating a snowboard cross start using bungee cords and pulleys.
“I think it’s going to be better than maybe what I think, based just on my progress the last few days,” said Ricker. “Everything is moving so much better than what I would ever imagine a week (post-operation) from breaking an arm.
“I think it’s going to go quite well. I’m really positive about this.”
Ricker and her fellow women’s snowboard cross competitors will get their first look at the Sochi course Feb. 12, with the initial training session scheduled for two days later.
The race is scheduled to go Feb. 16.
Ricker has fought through injuries before — including a crash right before the Vancouver Games as well as a concussion this past December — and expects to be able to do the same in Sochi.
“I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be in the back of my mind,” she said. “I’m hoping everything will go as a usual competition and that’s where I spend a lot of time visualizing and thinking about the race and technically what I’m doing on the board. Usually that overpowers any pain or anything else that’s going on.”
Ricker made her Olympic debut in 1998 on Canada’s halfpipe team at Nagano, Japan. She returned to the Games in 2006 at Turin, Italy, with the snowboard cross team but crashed and had to be airlifted to hospital.
She returned in 2010 to win gold and it sounds like she’s equally motivated this time around.
“It sounds crazy, but it’s helped me,” said Ricker of the injury. “This is almost like there was this burning fire, desire. It’s almost like somebody doused a bunch of gasoline on the fire so I’m pretty ready to go. I can feel the adrenaline and I can feel the excitement of going over to Russia.
“I’m actually just going to use that as a positive and use that for motivation to just get me through these couple of weeks and hopefully have the race of my life.”