Brady Leman secured Canada’s first podium of the 2012-13 Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup season when he finished second in a photo finish at the end of a thrilling men’s final in Telluride, USA, on Thursday.
The 26-year-old from Calgary, Alta., who was the fastest man in qualifying on Wednesday, was dominant in the early rounds Thursday and claimed his spot on the podium in an extremely tight final when he edged Switzerland’s Armin Niederer into third place at the line. Dave Duncan, of London, Ont., was unlucky to be disqualified after appearing to qualify for the semifinals and finished the day ninth.
Reigning world champion Kelsey Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C., was fourth in the women’s final and her teammate Marielle Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., finished eighth as the Canadian team – Nations’ Cup champions for the past four years – looked back to its best after being kept off the podium at the World Cup opener in Nakiska, Alta., last weekend.
“I felt like I was skiing well and skiing fast today,” said Leman, who was sixth in Nakiska. “It’s where I want to be in every race – in the final and fighting for gold.
“. . . It was pretty much a three-way photo-finish for first, second and third. It was tight racing the whole way down.
“Today was good to build the confidence and take home some hardware. I had a lot of tough heats today.”
Leman, who was ranked No. 2 in the world in ski cross in 2011-12, looked podium-bound all day long as he dominated his round of 32 heat and then his quarter-final before powering through the semifinal to make it into the final four. Leman’s starts had been strong all day but Filip Flisar, of Slovenia, was the fastest out of the gate in the final and the reigning men’s ski cross World Cup champion stayed out in front for the duration of the race. There was a big scramble at the finish as Flisar, Leman and Niederer pushed for the line – with Flisar coming out in front and Leman edging the Swiss racer by a matter of inches. Jean-Frederic Chapuis, of France, was fourth.
“The final was as a tough a final as you can have in ski cross. I just made a little mistake,” Leman said. “Luckily I had a good reach at the line to hold onto second. I’m pretty happy with how it went.”
Eric Archer, head coach of the Canadian team, said Leman’s performance was indicative of a team that is “getting back to normal.”
“We were very focused; skiing well; having fun. It was a great course,” Archer said. “Brady was on it all day. It was a great fight to get the photo for second.”
Duncan also looked strong in the early heats but his luck changed in his quarter-final when he went down while leading. The pile-up that ensued also took out his teammate Ian Deans, of Kelowna, B.C. and Jouni Pellinen, of Finland. Although Duncan made it to the bottom in second place he was later disqualified and finished ninth. Deans, who had advanced past the round of 32 for the first time in his career, suffered an apparent knee injury during the pile-up and finished 14th.
“It was decided I didn’t make all the gates,” Duncan said. “After the race the video was reviewed and (we) got a rule clarification. Thank you for the apology.”
Archer said the “unfortunate decision” robbed Duncan of the chance to push for the podium. He added that a meeting was due to take place Thursday evening to determine whether the final placings or points awarded to racers would be altered.
“The way he was skiing there was a very good chance he would have gone through to the final,” Archer said of Duncan. “Ian had a great day going. Hopefully it’s just a sprain. We are going to send him home and get an MRI done. We don’t have any concrete information.”
Mathieu Leduc, of Comox, B.C., was eliminated in the round of 32 when he finished third in his heat. He placed 17th.
On the women’s side, Serwa and Thompson were side by side in the same quarter-final and worked together to advance first and second, respectively. They were together again in the semifinals but a lightning-fast start from Switzerland’s Fanny Smith saw Serwa go through in second and Thompson finish third.
Serwa – returning from a knee injury that caused her to miss most of last season – was the slowest out of the gate in a stacked women’s final and she wasn’t able to close the gap. Smith finished first, French veteran Ophelie David was second and Sweden’s Anna Holmlund was third.
“I’m not focused on results right now. I’m just focused on building confidence,” Serwa said. “Today was a big step for me – just getting into the finals. I was stoked.
“I tried to make a pass on the last turn . . . at the bottom and just kind of got pinched out a bit.”
Thompson – the reigning female ski cross World Cup champion – went down in the small final when she was trying to make a pass and was awarded eighth place. She was not hurt.