Serwa takes silver in ski cross

Kelsey Serwa

Reigning ski cross world champion Kelsey Serwa showed great patience and poise to complete a stunning double pass in the ladies’ final and claim silver in Megeve, France, on Wednesday.

Kelsey Serwa

The 23-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., was sitting at the back of the pack in an exciting race when she lined up a move near the bottom of the course that allowed her to go from fourth to second and secure her second podium of the 2012-13 Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup season.

Serwa, who missed most of last season due to injury, has been building confidence from race to race and looks back to her best after claiming her first win of the year in Innichen/San Candido, Italy, last month. Wednesday’s result – which puts her second overall in the ski cross World Cup rankings – was the highlight of the day for a Canadian team that had eight racers in the round of 32 heats and five in the quarter-finals. Georgia Simmerling, of West Vancouver, B.C., finished 14th and Mariannick Therer, of Saint-Sauveur, Que., was 16th. Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., was ninth and Dave Duncan, of London, Ont., was 15th.

“The final was really exciting,” said Serwa, who has accumulated 301 World Cup points this season and is now within striking distance of rankings leader Fanny Smith, of Switzerland, who has 396. “All the girls were pretty strong out of the start and it was pretty even. I was kind of on the inside just behind the French girls and I did a speed check to avoid being pinched. In front of me they were going forward and back, making passes . . . but heading down to the bottom I knew there was an opportunity to pass. I went past one girl and cut inside for second.”

Germany’s Anna Woerner took the win, David was third and her teammate Alizee Baron was fourth. Serwa made her return to World Cup competition at the season-opener in Nakiska, Alta., in early December and took some time to get used to being in the thick of the action again following a long injury layoff. But her victory in Italy on Dec. 23 gave her a huge confidence boost.

“In Nakiska I was tentative skiing with people but now I don’t think about it. I’m ready to go,” Serwa said. “I’m still going race to race and trying my best – there’s no point in looking too far ahead. But I think I’m figuring out stuff every day.”

Serwa, who was third fastest in Tuesday’s qualification round, won her round of 32 heat and her teammate Therer – taking part in her first heat at the World Cup level – was second. French veteran Ophelie David got out in front in the quarterfinal and Serwa finished second and Therer fourth. Serwa then won her semifinal ahead of David to advance to the ladies’ final.

“In the first heat I was in front and Mari was right behind,” Serwa said. “I was so excited to see her come through in second. In the next heat Ophelie got out in front and I followed her all the way down.”

Of the other Canadian women, Simmerling finished second in her first heat but was eliminated in her quarter-final and Danielle Sundquist, of Calgary, Alta., was looking good in her round of 32 heat until she went out. Crystal Globe winner Marielle Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., crashed at the end of her qualification run and didn’t make it through to the elimination heats.

“We had Danie returning from a year break (due to injury) and Mari Therer getting her first heat experience at the World Cup level,” said Eric Archer, head coach of the Canadian team. “They were actually impressive, with Mari moving onto the round of 16 and Danie making a good pass in her first round before she lost a ski in a hole further down the course. Georgia Simmerling fought well today and just had some bad luck in her quarterfinal heat. Kelsey carried the flag for the team today.”

On the men’s side, Calgary’s Brady Leman went out in his round of 32 heat and Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., finished third and was eliminated. Duncan and Tafel did not finish their quarterfinals.

“It was a very even start (that went) into a narrow line very quickly so there was a lot of arm fighting and skis getting tangled up and poles getting between legs,” Archer explained. “We had a lot of bad luck – a lot of guys pinched in the gates. And we only managed to get Duncan and Tafel past the first round and then they ran into trouble there. Hopefully we will get the men going when we come back (for the next race).”

The USA’s John Teller won the men’s final, with Finland’s Jouni Pellinen coming second and Switzerland’s Armin Niederer finishing third. Swiss ace Alex Fiva leads the overall men’s ski cross World Cup standings with 384 points, while Niederer is second (373) and Leman third (248).