Marielle Thompson and Brady Leman are among eight Canadians who qualified for Saturday's finals in ski cross World Cup as the circuit goes down to the wire in Grindelwald, Switzerland.
The battle for the season-winning Crystal Globes is close, with the final two races of the season held back to back on Saturday and Sunday. Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., picked the perfect time to win her first World Cup qualification round Friday and advance to the final 16. Leman, of Calgary, Alta., was 14th-fastest in qualifying as all seven Canadian men advanced to the round of 32.
Thompson is out to win Canada's first ski cross individual Crystal Globe. She leads the World Cup standings with 490 points, 10 ahead of French veteran Ophelie David.
On the men's side, Leman is at the top the World Cup rankings with 425 points, with Switzerland's Alex Fiva second (418) and Slovenia's Filip Flisar third (382). It's so tight that even fifth-placed Chris Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que., who has 346 points, could move up to be a Crystal Globe winner if he has a big weekend.
With the battle for Crystal Globes virtually certain to go down to the final day, Canada's coaching staff are taking nothing for granted.
"We don't talk about the Globes here at all," said assistant coach Brent Kehl. "They are always in the back of the mind but we just want to focus on the job at hand. We are doing our homework and studying the course.
"Overnight the weather cleared up and the temperature went down to I think minus-12, which hardened up the course and we were able to get in two training runs per gender. This course is right up our alley. There's good gliding - it's definitely in our favour."
Thompson, who went into this season looking for her first career World Cup podium, now has five to her name – including victories at Blue Mountain, Ont., on Feb. 3 and at the last World Cup stop in Branas, Sweden, on March 3. She won Friday's qualification round in a time of one minute, 19.15 seconds. Russia's Maria Komissarova was second (1:19.37) and Norway's Marte Hoeie Gjefsen was third (1:19.46). David was fourth in 1:20.36.
"That was a good one, that's for sure," Thompson said of qualification. "It's pretty exciting.
"The course is definitely fast and hopefully it will get a bit faster tomorrow. I'm not getting ahead of myself. I'm just trying to keep my skiing up to how it's been and focus on the race."
On the men's side, Flisar was the fastest qualifier (1:12.76), with the American John Teller second (1:13.26). Norway's Didrik Bastian Juell was third (1:13.38) and Del Bosco was fourth (1:13.62). The other Canadian qualifiers were Dave Duncan, of London, Ont. (sixth, 1:13.79), Canmore, Alta., racer Tristan Tafel (eighth, 1:13.85), Brian Bennett, of Quesnel, B.C. (ninth, 1:14.11), Nik Zoricic, of Toronto, Ont. (13th, 1:14.42), Leman (1:14.62) and Whistler's Davey Barr (24th, 1:15.30).
"On the guys' side everyone qualified. This track is very good for us," Kehl said. "And Marielle won by a large margin. It was really well done."