Thompson, Del Bosco crowned Canadian champions

Canadian ski cross fans got a glimpse of a bright future on Saturday as 18-year-old Marielle Thompson claimed her first national championship and young Tristan Tafel pushed superstar Chris Del Bosco close for the men’s title.

Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., edged out world champion and Winter X Games gold medalist Kelsey Serwa at the line to take the women’s final at the Sport Chek Ski Cross Canadian Championships in Lake Louise, Alta.

Tafel, 21, of Canmore, Alta., went from fourth to second in the men’s final but didn’t have quite enough speed to pass Del Bosco, who put the icing on a stellar season with his second Canadian championship.

“I was behind Kelsey the whole way,” Thompson said. “I didn’t really think I could pass her but I can carry my speed pretty well and I just got her on the last jump.”

Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C., achieved both her main goals for the year when she won gold at the world championships and the X Games, and she was happy to see Thompson claim victory.

“Marielle just drafted me. It was clean. Good for her,” said Serwa, who won the Canadian title in 2009.

“It was exciting. I wanted to win, but second is good. I’m glad my teammate is on the top of the podium.”

Another talented young skier, Cat Blair, finished third in the women’s final. The 18-year-old made her World Cup debut earlier this season and enjoyed having the chance to race against Serwa and Thompson.

“It was close. I was on Marielle’s tail a little,” said Blair, of Whistler, B.C., a member of the B.C. Ski Cross team. “I haven’t had a lot of practice passing.”

Del Bosco, one of the sport’s biggest stars, took an early lead in the men’s final and didn’t let go.

“It was good to finish off on a high note,” said Del Bosco, who lives in Montreal, Que. “It’s big. When you are racing against your teammates there’s definitely something on the line there.”

There was a tough battle behind Del Bosco, as Whistler’s Davey Barr, Dave Duncan, of Golden, B.C., and Tafel jostled for position on a very tight course.

“In the first turn, Del got clear and the three of us were within feet of each other, with no room,” said Duncan.

Tafel, who won the overall Nor-Am title this season, was thrilled to take second place in the final ahead of two national team skiers.

“It’s kind of a surreal feeling. I’m pretty pumped,” said Tafel, who was a member of the Raymond James Alberta Ski Team before making the switch to the Alberta Ski Cross team.

“I was nervous up in the start but I knew once the gate dropped I had to go. I ended up fourth over the second feature but I was just patient with it.

“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m pretty pumped on ski cross. I’m having fun every day and you can’t beat that.”

Eric Archer, Canada’s head coach, was impressed by some of the younger skiers competing on Saturday.

“It was fun. I saw some talent out here that I haven’t seen before,” said Archer, who led Canada to another Nations’ Cup title this season as the top team on the World Cup circuit.

“Tristan was in fourth place at the top and second at the finish and that’s against the big boys. That’s impressive.

“With Marielle, I was talking to her this week, trying to get her fired up. She has natural speed and a lot of people saw that in the finishing straight. That should give her confidence going into next season.”

Final: 1. Chris Del Bosco; 2. Tristan Tafel; 3. Dave Duncan; 4. Davey Barr

Final: 1. Marielle Thompson; 2. Kelsey Serwa; 3. Cat Blair; 4. Elianne Taillefer