Serwa, Thompson, Del Bosco shine at Olympic test event

Canada had great success at the ski cross Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday, winning one gold and two silver medals as Kelsey Serwa and Marielle Thompson finished 1-2 in the women’s final and Chris Del Bosco capped a remarkable comeback from injury with second place in the men’s race.

Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C. – the reigning ski cross world champion – dominated her early heats and held off a fierce challenge from World Cup leader Fanny Smith in the women’s final to take gold. Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., earned her first podium of the season when Smith fell and she moved up from third to second.

Kelsey Serwa

Meanwhile, Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que., enjoyed a superb return to racing after missing the start of the season with a shoulder injury as he pulled off some thrilling passes to advance to the men’s final. The reigning men’s ski cross world champion pushed hard for the win Tuesday but narrowly lost a battle with Swede Victor Oehling Norberg at the line. Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., won the men’s small final to finish fifth overall.

“This gives us the confidence to know that we can perform well on this hill,” Serwa said of the team’s strong showing in Sochi. “The is the best result we’ve had this season. It’s nice to see us on the podium again and Tristan being fifth is pretty good, too. Once we get the momentum going it’s easier to keep it up.”

Serwa finished second in the qualification round and used her strong starts to great effect in the heats as she won her round of 32 heat, her quarter-final and her semifinal. In the final, Smith was hot on her heels but the Swiss ace fell when she tried to take a tight inside line on a corner in an attempt to pass Serwa.

“On the last turn of the track she tried to go inside me and overshot,” Serwa said. “I was just happy to get over the finish line safely.”

Serwa now sits third in the women’s ski cross World Cup standings with 401 points. Smith leads with 476 points and French veteran Ophelie David is second (416).

Thompson became the first Canadian to win a ski cross Crystal Globe as individual World Cup champion last season but she’s struggled to recapture that form in 2012-13. Her best best result prior to Tuesday was an eighth-place finish in Telluride, USA, in December. Thompson advanced from her round of 32 heat when Swiss ace Katrin Mueller fell in front of her, but she seemed to grow in confidence as the heats progressed. The 20-year-old Whistler racer won her quarter-final before finishing second behind Serwa in her semi-final and the final.

“I kind of knew I was back skiing well. Today I kind of got into the zone,” Thompson said. “In the first round I was getting back on my feet because I haven’t been in the heats that much. It’s really just been qualifying that’s tripped me up this season. By the second round I was really getting dialled in.

“It was really fun. It felt like a ski cross course and when I’m having fun I tend to have success.”

Georgia Simmerling, of West Vancouver, B.C., won her round of 32 heat with some smart skiing before she was eliminated when she finished fourth in her quarter-final. She placed 13th overall. Danielle Sundquist, of Calgary, Alta., was second – behind Serwa – in her round of 32 heat before she was also eliminated at the quarter-final stage, finishing 16th overall.

In the men’s races, Canada got off to a strong start when Del Bosco and Calgary’s Brady Leman finished third and fourth, respectively, in the qualification round. Del Bosco made a swift recovery from a shoulder injury suffered prior to the season-opening World Cup stop in Nakiska, Alta., and he won his round of 32 heat with ease. It was a different story in Del Bosco’s quarter-final as he found himself in third place before he got huge air off the final jump to edge a photo finish at the line and advance to the semifinal.

“I felt really good,” said Del Bosco, who said his shoulder stood up well to the challenge of pulling out of the start gate, as well as head-to-head racing. “I’m 100 per cent – I’m stoked.

“In the (quarter-final) I made a tactical error on the last turn and left the door wide open. I was passed so I jumped back in and drafted. The last jump was one of the opportunities we had to pass. I definitely launched a little further than I wanted but it worked out.”

Del Bosco made a smooth pass to win his semifinal before a slow start in the final saw him once again sitting third. He moved up to second thanks to a slick pass and then put it all on the line in a desperate attempt to win gold.

“I’m so competitive – I want to win – but I feel great to be back on the podium,” Del Bosco said. “I made a couple of tactical errors in the final but these are the first couple of rounds of skiing in traffic that I’ve had since March.

“The course was awesome. There were a lot of places to make passes.”

Tafel, who was second at the last ski cross World Cup stop in Grasgehren, Germany, was second in his round of 32 heat and fought valiantly to advance when he won a photo-finish for second place in his quarter-final.

“I was playing cat and mouse with (Austria’s) Andreas Matt,” Tafel said. “I went to the side and tried to make a move. It was down to the line so I was pretty pumped to squeeze ahead.”

It was a similar story in Tafel’s semifinal but this time he lost a scramble to the line for second place before going on to win the small final.

“In the next round Andreas (Schauer, of Germany) just got me by a few inches,” Tafel said. “I made the most of it in the small final and I was extremely happy with the way I skied today.

“This course is definitely the closest we’ve had to an X Games style of course on the World Cup this year. It made it extremely exciting all day.”

Leman, who has been Canada’s top male racer this season, stayed out of trouble to advance from his round of 32 heat but he got off to a slow start in his quarter-final and was eliminated. Leman placed 13th overall and now sits fourth in the overall ski cross World Cup standings with 313 points. Swiss duo Alex Fiva (474) and Armin Niederer (429) are first and second in the standings, while Czech ace Tomas Kraus is third (322).

Dave Duncan, of London, Ont., was third in his round of 32 heat and finished 22nd overall. Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., did not start the race due to a shoulder injury but he is expected to compete at the next World Cup stop in Harrachov, in the Czech Republic, on Feb. 23-24.

Due to adverse weather conditions the qualification round was cancelled on Monday and moved to Tuesday morning.

“The course was awesome,” said Eric Archer, head coach of the Canadian team. “There were a lot of places to make passes.

“We are just super happy we were able to get the event off after the weather of the past few days. We moved over to the snowboard cross track – it ended up working really well.”