Thompson wins ski cross World Cup

Marielle Thompson claimed her second victory of the season Friday to extend her lead atop the ski cross World Cup standings, while Dave Duncan was third and regained the lead in the men’s rankings in a crucial final Olympic qualifier for the Canadian team in Val Thorens, France.

Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., Duncan, of London, Ont., Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta., who was fourth Friday, and Kelowna, B.C.’s Kelsey Serwa, who sat out the race, look like they’re virtual locks to be nominated to the Canadian team for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games, while Chris Del Bosco has a great chance of joining them after winning Thursday’s weather-interrupted race and then finishing fifth on Friday.

Georgia Simmerling, of West Vancouver, B.C. – seventh on Friday – is on the bubble as the ultra-competitive process of qualifying within freestyle goes down to the wire. Olympic qualification is based on a points system across the different freestyle disciplines – of which ski cross is one – and several other World Cup events are taking place in the next few days that could affect rankings before the window shuts on Jan. 19. Canadian racers such as Del Bosco and Simmerling, in particular, now face an anxious wait to learn whether they have done enough to punch their tickets to Sochi.

“I knew I had to step it up,” said Montreal, Que., resident Del Bosco, who finished fourth after crashing in the men’s final at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and has had a slow start to his 2013-14 campaign. “I felt a lot of pressure that helped get me to the next level. I haven’t felt this good in a start gate in a long time. I couldn’t really be any happier. I did pretty much everything I could.

“Nothing has changed since 2010 in how I approach each race. If I’m (in Sochi) I’m definitely going to be giving it 100 per cent. I’m not going to settle for anything less.”

Thompson, who achieved “Method A’ criteria by claiming silver at the world championships last season and then winning the season-opening World Cup race in Nakiska, Alta., will head to Sochi as a medal favourite.

“I know Sochi is coming up fast so I’m definitely going to start thinking about it,” Thompson said. “I was strong in the start today and made smart moves all the way down . . . Everything is just coming together. I’m really excited that I’ve been so consistent.”

Thompson was at her dominant best on Friday – winning her first two heats and the semifinal before securing victory in the final. She extended her lead in the women’s ski cross World Cup rankings and now has 420 points, with Swiss duo Katrin Mueller (372) and Fanny Smith (290) sitting second and third, respectively. Serwa and Simmerling sit sixth and seventh, respectively.

Danielle Sundquist, of Calgary, Alta., had her best result in three years as she won her round of 32 heat and placed second in the quarter-finals before she was edged into third in the semis. She won the small final to take fifth overall. Simmerling, on the bubble for Olympic qualification, won her first two heats but was third in the semifinals and third again in the small final to finish seventh overall.

“I’ve done all I can,” said Simmerling. “I’m praying to the Olympic Gods to get me in there.”

Serwa was fast in Wednesday’s qualification rounds but sat out Thursday’s and Friday’s races as a precaution. Serwa, who won the Olympic test event in Sochi last year, has had a strong return from injury this season – finishing second in Innichen-San Candido, Italy – and looks likely to qualify for nomination to Canada’s team.

On the men’s side, all five Canadians advanced past the first heat, with Duncan and Leman going all the way to the men’s final, where they were third and fourth, respectively.

“The conditions made it difficult. The heats were tight; the racing was tight,” Duncan said. “In the final I saw an opportunity and went for it and came up lame, so next time!

“Canada is on the right track here – things are looking good with the team. Del (Bosco’s) record in the sport speaks for itself. It was just a matter of time before he got back on the podium.”

Duncan, who had back-to-back World Cup wins in Innichen-San Candido, Italy – the first of his career – moved back to the top of the men’s World Cup standings on the back of Friday’s result. He now has 310 points, with Sweden’s Victor Oehling Norberg – who was second Friday – sitting second in the rankings with 305 points. Leman sits fifth and Del Bosco 10th.

Thursday’s finals were halted mid-way through the ladies’ quarter-finals. Placings for women and men were awarded based on the round of 32 results. Del Bosco, who needed a podium Thursday or Friday to give him a great shot of making Canada’s team for Sochi, won his first-round heat Thursday and he was eventually awarded first place. Initially, it wasn’t clear whether the result could be used as an Olympic qualifier, but there was more clarity as of Friday morning.

“The result was legitimate in terms of including the ski cross portion of the event,” said Dave Ellis, director of ski cross for Alpine Canada, adding that if the results were based purely on the qualification round the rules state that they couldn’t have counted towards Olympic qualification.

“There are a lot of competitions that are happening in the next three days and Chris is sitting quite favourably right now. It’s hard to draw any conclusions until we wrap things up on Sunday.

“Being part of freestyle . . . it’s a great environment. The main goal is to put the best medal contenders forward for Canada.”

Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., was 11th Friday, while Mathieu Leduc, of Comox, B.C., was 14th. Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., did not advance past the qualification round, which took place on Wednesday.

There’s one more ski cross World Cup event prior to Sochi – in Kreischberg, Austria, on January 24-25 – but it falls outside of the Olympic qualification window. The Canadian team will take part in the race before heading back to Canada for a short break prior to the Games.