Thompson dedicates world champs silver to Nik Zoricic

Marielle Thompson dedicated her world championship silver medal to Nik Zoricic on the anniversary of his passing after she finished second in Sunday’s women’s ski cross final in Voss, Norway.

The 20-year-old Crystal Globe winner from Whistler, B.C., wrapped up an emotional weekend for Canada’s ski cross team with her second podium of the season on a day in which the team had vowed to “Ski for Nik.” Zoricic, a longtime member of the national ski cross team, passed away last March following a crash at a World Cup race in Grindelwald, Switzerland.

Kelsey Serwa, from Kelowna, B.C. – the 2011 world champion – was unable to defend her title after tweaking her knee in training. Fellow 2011 world champ Chris Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que., was second in the small final to finish sixth overall.

“I thought about him in the start gate in the final and I had to take a second to calm down,” said Thompson of Zoricic. “Being on the podium, it was a big moment. This entire weekend has been pretty emotional. Definitely a lot of thoughts about Nik.”

Thompson had great starts all day long on a tight course that offered few opportunities for passing and she cruised through to the women’s final before finishing second behind Switzerland’s Fanny Smith. French veteran Ophelie David was third.

“I’m definitely really excited,” said Thompson of winning silver. “Coming into this race I had some confidence after a great training session in Germany.”

Thompson – last season’s overall World Cup champion – had a slow start to the season, but she was second in the Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia, and is starting to look like she’s back to her best. She was fourth in qualifying Sunday – her best qualification result of the season – and she was second in her round of 32 heat before winning both her quarter- and semifinal on the back of some hot starts.

“That was great,” Canadian head coach Eric Archer said of Thompson’s performance. “She did her job today in qualifying to get lane choice. She did the best she could in the final and ended up with silver.”

Georgia Simmerling, of West Vancouver, B.C., skied smart in her round of 32 heat to advance in second place. But she had a tough start to her quarter-final and was eliminated, finishing 13th overall. Danie Sundquist, of Calgary, Alta., was third out of the gate in her round of 32 heat and stayed there, finishing 22nd overall. Serwa’s knee will be evaluated before it’s confirmed whether she will compete in next weekend’s races in Are, Sweden.

Del Bosco, meanwhile, did his best to defend his world championship title after finishing fifth in qualification but came up against racers with better seed times in his semifinal.

“If you were in the left two gates you had a pretty good shot,” Del Bosco said of the lack of passing opportunities after the first turn. “I left it all out there but it was kind of frustrating.

“In the semifinal I had third lane choice. I had pretty decent starts but I just couldn’t get it done and get in the final.”

Del Bosco, who was second in the small final to finish sixth overall, said his longtime teammate Nik Zoricic was in everyone’s thoughts on race day.

“I think we all just had him in our hearts,” Del Bosco said. “We really wanted to perform here and do something special for him. We all gave it our best. Marielle stepped up and got on the podium. Nik was probably laughing that I was in the small final because he hated small finals! We were all thinking a lot about Nik and trying to represent out there.”

Archer said although his team qualified well, the lack of passing opportunities made it tough in some of the heats.

“When you show up and see a course like that you know you have to qualify fast. You could see how it was going to play out,” Archer said. “Del (Bosco) gave it the best effort he could. In the semifinal he was looking and looking (to pass) – that’s just the way it was today.”

The French duo of Jean Frederic Chapuis and Bastien Midol took gold and silver, respectively, in the men’s final, while the USA’s John Teller was third. Neither of the French racers had previously been on the podium this season.

Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., advanced comfortably from his round of 32 but found himself behind Midol and Del Bosco in the quarter-finals and he was eliminated, finishing ninth. Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta., battled his way to the front in his round of 32 heat and won with ease but it was a different story in his quarter-final as he got squeezed into fourth at the first turn and was eliminated. Leman, who was 10th-fastest in qualification, finished 15th overall. Dave Duncan, of London, Ont., was third in his round of 32 heat and finished 19th. Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., did not advance past the qualification round.

Next up for Canada’s ski cross team is a double-header in Are, Sweden, next weekend, followed by the World Cup finals in Sierra Nevada, Spain.