Canada ski cross ready for World Cup season
Team loaded with talent, ready to win
The kick off to the World Cup ski cross season at Nakiska Ski Resort in Alberta has been pushed back a day. Originally scheduled as back-to-back races, extreme weather conditions forced race officials to postpone Friday's race until Saturday. The second race originally scheduled for Saturday is cancelled.
Saturday's race is the first chance for the best in the world to earn valuable points for a spot at the Olympics in Sochi.
For Canadians this season, all eyes will be on veteran Chris Del Bosco who looks to land atop the podium in Sochi.
At the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Del Bosco refused to settle for bronze and made a risky pass approaching the finish line. He crashed, and finished just off the podium in fourth. But Del Bosco, who is fiercely competitive, isn’t dwelling on the past; he’s looking ahead.
“I’m focused first on just having a good start to the season and getting some results under my belt and getting in a qualifying spot and then we will switch the focus to Sochi as it gets closer,” he told CBC Sports.
Del Bosco, 31, competed first as an alpine skier before joining the Canadian ski cross team in 2007. He has 18 World Cup podiums to his name and was crowned World Champion in 2011.
The veteran was sidelined for the start of 2012-2013 season after separating his shoulder while training. He had surgery to repair it, and returned to competition at the Olympic test event in Sochi in February. He finished an impressive second in the men’s final. This season, he wants better.
“I think I’m in a really good place. I had a really good training block the last few months on snow,” said Del Bosco, who lives in Montreal. “We were in New Zealand and then we had a short camp in Europe and had some good training there so I’m fired up.”
‘I’m always aiming for the podium’
Another Canadian on the radar is youngster Marielle Thompson. The 21-year-old, from Whistler, B.C., has been on fire since joining the ski cross team in 2010.
Her breakout season came in 2012 when she became the first Canadian to win an individual World Cup Crystal Globe in ski cross. That season Thompson landed on the podium six times in just 10 World Cup races.
Thompson pre-qualified for the Olympics with a silver medal at the World Championships in Voss, Norway in March. She needs just one top-12 result to guarantee herself a boarding pass on the plane to Sochi.
“I’m just going to do my best, have fun, and I’m obviously not going to aim for top 12, I’m always aiming for the podium but hopefully I can get it wrapped up here [at the first World Cup of the season] in Nakiska,” said Thompson.
“We’ve had a lot of good camps on snow already, I’ve been building up my confidence and I’ve been skiing pretty well so I’m just going to ski fast, have fun, do my best and hope it all works out.”
Veteran Kelsey Serwa, who finished fifth at the Olympics in Vancouver, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in March, could return to competition Friday in Nakiska. She’s won 15 World Cup medals since 2009 and was crowned world champion in 2011.
Brady Leman, Dave Duncan, Tristan Tafel and Georgia Simmerling will also be racing.
Both men’s and women’s teams face a strong challenge from the Swiss, who have been known to come out of the gate hot at the first race of the season.
“The Swiss guys are pretty strong,” said Del Bosco. “They have had pretty good and consistent seasons over the last couple of years.”
Course design to favour Canadians?
Del Bosco notes that the level of competition has increased over the past few years and it’s getting tougher across the board.
“There are a lot of guys now; it’s a pretty stacked field. There’s more depth and it’s no joke to qualify. There are no easy heats. Any one of those heats could be a final.”
The Nakiska World Cup courses were designed by Jeff Ihaksi, the lead builder of the ski cross track at the Vancouver Games, which in some ways could give the Canadians an advantage.
“He has a lot of airtime in his courses and I think our team is really good in the air and were really good at adapting to the big builds especially with a lot of technical features,” said Thompson. “Our team has always been really successful on his courses and hopefully it will show off here in Nakiska.”
“His tracks are more snowboard, boarder cross influenced,” said Del Bosco, referring to bigger jumps, and more terrain and features. “I think it’s going to be really good for us.”
A solid course combined with a team loaded with talent could mean great things for Canada ski cross on home soil.
"This weekend I believe we're fully capable of multiple medals," said assistant coach Willy Raine. "Every World Cup event that we go to, we should have somebody on the podium."
Athletes have until Jan. 20 to qualify for the Olympics.
The Canada Olympic Committee will announce the final ski cross team for Sochi on Jan. 27, just 11 days before the Opening Ceremony.
With files from The Canadian Press.