Chris Del Bosco won his second Skier X title in three years on Sunday and teammate Dave Duncan took bronze as Canada’s all-conquering ski cross team put on another show of strength at the Winter X Games in Aspen, USA.
Del Bosco, who won gold at the X Games in 2010 and silver last year, was a dominant force from the quarter-finals on, as he used his full arsenal of slick passing moves and great technique to pick off his rivals on the super-sized course and claim another Skier X title.
Duncan, one of eight Canadian men who qualified for Sunday’s quarter-finals, battled his way onto the podium with a gritty performance on what was a hard-fought and tightly-contested day of racing. In the women’s final, Marielle Thompson surged into the lead and looked poised to win gold until she misjudged a tight turn and went down. She ended up fifth.
“Oh man, I feel great,” said Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que. “It’s been kind of an up and down season and I was hoping to come here and have a big day. I’m feeling good about my skiing and it all came together.
“To come here and win gold with Duncan on the podium, it’s a great day.”
In the men’s final, Finland’s Jouni Pellinen got out to an early lead, but Del Bosco used the inside line on the first turn to move to the front of the pack. Del Bosco found himself in the bronze-medal position but set himself up for a big pass on the triple and made it count.
“This course is set up really well for me,” Del Bosco said. “I knew the triple was one of the spots where I could make a move if I needed to make something happen. I kind of set it up a couple of turns before.”
Del Bosco, the reigning ski cross world champion, won his quarter-final and semifinal races en route to the final. In Skier X, six racers compete head to head, with the top three advancing to the next round.
“He was very smart today,” Eric Archer, head coach of the Canadian team, said of Del Bosco. “His technique is really good. He didn’t always have the fastest start but he made sure he was in a good position going into the first turn.”
Within hours of the race finishing Del Bosco had already set his sights on repeating next year. No man has ever won gold in successive Skier X finals at the X Games, although Del Bosco came close last year when he followed up his win from 2010 with a silver medal.
“This is one of my favourite events. It’s huge,” Del Bosco said. “I’ve given myself the chance to break the curse next year.”
Filip Flisar, of Slovenia, was second in the men’s final and Duncan, of London, Ont. – who had to fight his way out of tough positions all day long – scrambled his way into third place.
“It was close all the way through,” Duncan said. “The guys were all side-by-side. It was a definite battle out there.”
Duncan won his quarter-final and finished third in his semifinal to squeeze into the medal round.
“Dunc battled hard today,” said Archer. “It was a bit of a battle at times but he kept moving on.”
Duncan, who won X Games silver in 2010, was happy to get on the podium again.
“We all want gold but I think you can be happy with any position on the podium here,” Duncan said. “It’s the biggest course of the year. It’s the biggest event of the year.”
Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta., looked fast all day and was a little unlucky to go out in his semifinal. After taking an early lead alongside Del Bosco, he lost time on a couple of features and slipped back into fourth place. Leman went on to win the small final after making a couple of impressive passes. Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., crashed out of the second men’s semifinal and was second in the small final.
The Canadian team – wearing helmet stickers bearing the initials ‘SB’ in honour of freestyle skier Sarah Burke – had all eight men’s team members competing in the quarter-finals.
Davey Barr, from Whistler, B.C. – celebrating his 10th year at X Games – was desperately unlucky not to advance from the first quarter-final. He was fourth going into the final jump and narrowly lost a photo finish at the line. Nik Zoricic, of Toronto, Ont., thought he had qualified from his quarter-final when he nailed a pass to make it into the top three. However, he ended up being disqualified. Brian Bennett, of Quesnel, B.C., was eliminated at the quarter-final stage, as was Whistler’s Stan Rey, who collided with another racer and went out.
In the women’s race, Whistler’s Thompson looked destined to win gold when she got off to a great start in the final and took the lead. She then made a great pass to move back into first place after being pushed into second. But with a clear path in front of her, she lost control on a tight turn and went down.
“I skied really well and I’m happy about that but not so happy with myself for making a mistake,” Thompson said. “I just got kind of squeezed in that turn.”
Thompson was the only Canadian competing in the women’s elimination rounds. Defending champion Kelsey Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C., suffered a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago, while Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor, also of Whistler, is on the comeback trail after suffering a serious injury last year.
“The course was a lot faster today than it was on Friday (for qualifying),” said Archer. “The banked turns are really compressive. (Marielle) went into the turn really hot and she just got her foot squirted out.”
Earlier in the day Thompson – a rising star on the World Cup circuit – had looked hugely impressive in her semifinal. She got out to an early lead and then battled her way back from third to win her heat with a couple of clever moves.
With Thompson hitting the deck in the final, Norway’s Marte Gjefsen took the win, with her teammate Hedda Berntsen finishing second and Australia’s Jenny Owens claiming bronze.