Marielle Thompson found herself in an unfamiliar position in Sunday’s ski cross final – in second spot after winning her previous three heats in wire-to-wire victories.
But the most consistent ski cross racer on the planet simply bided her time as if she was stalking prey, and when she zoomed past Sandra Naeslund of Sweden halfway down the hill, a roar went up from the crowd at Blue Mountain Resort.
Thompson capped her thoroughly dominant world cup season with a victory, and was presented with her third crystal globe as the season’s overall champion.
“I think any time I’m behind in a heat I just sit and try to be patient,” the 24-year-old from Whistler, B.C., said. “I know there’s that big long straightaway at the end and I just needed to wait for my chance and I’m glad it worked out in the end.”
The victory was Thompson’s seventh on the season, and kicked off an excellent day for Canada. Canada finished 1-2 in the men’s final with Brady Leman winning gold and Chris Del Bosco claiming silver. Canada was presented with the Nation’s Cup as the top team on the season.
The solid result was the perfect final tune-up for the freestyle world championships which begin Tuesday in Sierra Nevada, Spain. Thompson, who won gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, will have an Olympic-sized target on her back both in Spain and next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“Obviously it feels great having the confidence going into [the world championship], and then it will make me work extra hard in the summer because I know everyone is going to be gunning for me going into next season,” Thompson said. “So I’m going to have to be on top of my game.”
Naeslund crossed 0.08 behind Thompson in second, while Switzerland’s Fanny Smith placed third. Brittany Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Que., whose previous best was sixth, finished fourth.
It was the second golden sweep for Thompson and Leman in as many months – the pair took top spot last month in Sweden.
Leman, a 30-year-old from Calgary, was quick out of the gate and never trailed in any of Sunday’s four rounds of the event that sees four skiers race head-to-head down the icy run of treacherous turns and jumps. In elimination style, two skiers move on until only a final four remain.
“It’s not often that you can win a ski cross like that [skiing from the front], because everyone is so good,” Leman said. “It’s a cool feeling to be able to get out front and hold everyone off all day and just stick to the plan and execute.
“I just was able to find a little extra speed at the top of the hill today and carry that all the way down the course. … I just kind of [turned] the brain off today and just ski and race and have confidence that that was going to be good enough and it was.”
Leman, who finished second in the overall standings, had no clue how big a lead he had on the rest of the field.
“No. Always [look] forward, not backwards,” said Leman, who swapped his helmet postrace for a white Stetson.
Fans lined the side of the course about a dozen deep in some spots, while several hundred watched from the finish area as the skiers flew over the final jump, which resembled a snow globe with an Audi car (the event’s sponsor) encased in glass.
“It was a super fun day,” said Leman, who was fourth in Sochi. “Amazing atmosphere, crowd was awesome, tons of family here so that was cool, and I was able to have an awesome performance. Great way to end the World Cup season and take some momentum into Sierra Nevada.”
Slovenia’s Filip Flisar was third.
Del Bosco was thrilled to be back on the podium in what’s been a tough season.
“I’ve been struggling,” the 34-year-old said. “I’ve been skiing really well but had bad luck in Montafon [Austria] with a crash and was injured a bit, and tweaked my knee a couple weeks ago and missed a couple more races, and skiing well and didn’t have luck in a couple races, so kind of frustrating.”
Georgia Simmerling of West Vancouver, B.C., who’s the only Canadian to have competed in three Olympics in three different sports – alpine skiing, ski cross and cycling – was skiing second behind Thompson in the first round, but was passed and wound up third, and so didn’t move on.
“My confidence wasn’t super high coming into this race, I hadn’t raced since mid-January, I took a tumble and did everything I possibly could to get my confidence up,” said Simmerling, who won bronze in cycling’s team pursuit at the Rio Olympics. “I actually skied well, I was following [Thompson], skiing smart, but I left the door open a little bit, and a small little error like that in ski cross, people make passes.
“One small error … I’m taking this confidence and moving on to world champs.”Report Typo/Error