Canada put on a show on home snow Friday, owning the podium with two gold medals and a silver at the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup races in Blue Mountain, Ont.
Marielle Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., dominated the ladies’ race from start to finish to claim her first career World Cup victory at the age of 19. Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta., and teammate Chris Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que., then finished first and second, respectively, in the men’s race to the delight of the thousands of fans who gathered in the finish area at the ski resort near Collingwood, Ont.
“I hope we put on a good show – it sure seemed like it to me. To clean up here is great,” said Leman, who regained the red bib as the overall ski cross World Cup leader following his victory. “Having the hometown crowd here was awesome. I couldn’t be more happy.”
Leman, 25, is having a remarkable comeback year after a long spell on the sidelines due to injury. He won the opening World Cup race of the 2011-12 season in Innichen/San Candido, Italy, and is now leading the overall ski cross standings with 331 points, ahead of Switzerland’s Alex Fiva (321) and Del Bosco (254).
Leman finished second behind Austrian ace Andreas Matt in the round of 32, the quarter-final and the semifinal – when Leman had to make a slick pass to make it into the final four. But in the final, Leman managed to get out in front and hold on to claim the win.
“It felt awesome. I had really good starts all day,” Leman said. “I just knew I had to get that second jump down a little bit better and I nailed it in that final – that’s the one that really counts. Del (Bosco) has taught me so much since I started ski cross – I’ve learned so much from him. It’s awesome to share the podium with him.”
Del Bosco, the reigning ski cross world champion and X Games gold medallist, didn’t have an easy path to the podium on Friday. He won his first heat and then his quarter-final, but almost got tangled up out of the start in the semifinal before finishing second to advance. In the final, he found himself sitting third but found a way to make another pass in tight quarters to edge ahead of Matt and finish second. Matt was third and Armin Niederer, of Switzerland, was fourth.
“I had an alright pull in the final – behind Brady – just trying not to make any stupid mistakes or take him out or take me out,” Del Bosco said of the men’s final. “When you’re kind of holding back a little bit it leaves it open for third and Andy (Matt) got by.
“I had a few tricks for down lower. It looked like he was going wide so I just dove in and at the last minute he dove in, too. We made a little contact but we both stayed upright.”
Del Bosco was delighted to be able to stand on the podium next to his good friend Leman.
“It was awesome. We’ve been talking about it for a while – making the final together,” Del Bosco said. “We finally did it here at home and ended up 1-2. It was a great crowd, an amazing crowd. It was really good to bring home some trophies.”
Dave Duncan, of London, Ont., won his first heat and his quarter-final, before he got tangled up in the semifinal and went out. He was third in the small final and finished seventh overall.
“I don’t know what happened in the semifinal,” Duncan said. “All I know is my ski was off in the air and I was going into the fence. My shoulder’s pretty sore.”
Nik Zoricic, of Toronto, Ont., got tangled up with another racer in his quarterfinal and he went out, finishing 15th. Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., recorded another solid result in his rookie season on the World Cup tour with a 16th-place finish.
“I’m happy to make it past the first round. I’m just going to keep fighting for points all year,” Tafel said. “It’s kind of a home away from home event for me. I love racing in front of my family and getting to see them here is special.”
Thompson was already enjoying a breakthrough season – after claiming the first two World Cup podiums of her career – so a victory in the only Canadian stop on the tour left her beaming from ear to ear.
“It feels pretty awesome,” Thompson said. “Coming over that last jump and hearing those cheers was pretty amazing.”
Thompson won both her quarter- and semifinal before going virtually tape to tape in the final. She admitted afterwards that her experience last weekend at X Games – when she was leading in the final but went out on a tight turn – wasn’t far from her mind.
“I did think about it a bit,” Thompson said. “I was like, ‘Hey Marielle, you’ve got to stay strong. You’re not letting this one go.’
“I heard the crowd going over the last jump. It was amazing. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to win.’ I was so excited.”
Austria’s Katrin Ofner was second and Katrin Mueller, of Switzerland, was third. Thompson is now second in the overall ski cross World Cup rankings with 319 points, behind Switzerland’s Sanna Luedi (389), who is currently injured and did not race in Blue Mountain.
“We couldn’t ask for more,” said Eric Archer, head coach of Canada’s ski cross team. “Marielle has been learning all year. Her confidence is building at every stop. She took advantage of fast skis and a good start and it was good to get that first victory.”
Mariannick Therer, of Saint-Sauveur, Que., qualified for Friday’s quarter-finals but had a spill during training and did not race. She is sore but not seriously injured.