Canada's Brady Leman speeds to ski cross gold
Victory follows serious crash by Canadian Chris Del Bosco in 1/8 final
By Myles Dichter, CBC Sports
Canada's Brady Leman captured gold in men's ski cross in Pyeongchang on Wednesday.
Leman skied in the big final alongside fellow Canadian Kevin Drury, who finished fourth after crashing out early in the race.
Switzerland's Marc Bischofberger grabbed silver, while Russian athlete Sergey Ridzik took bronze.
The gold medal was sweet redemption for Calgary's Leman, who finished fourth in the big final at the Olympics in Sochi in 2014. But he wasn't worried about that on Wednesday.
"I was really trying not to think about it as redemption because I don't think that'd be a good mindset to have but now that it's done, yeah," said Leman.
It was also Canada's first-ever men's Olympic ski cross medal.
In the race in Sochi, Leman was third heading into the final jump, surrounded by three French skiers. But instead of settling for bronze, Leman tried to make a big move on the final jump, and ended up crashing out.
Pyeongchang was a different story, as Leman comfortably led for most of the race.
"This blows them [Sochi and Vancouver] out of the water," said Leman. "I broke my leg the day before competition in Vancouver and then just missing the podium in Sochi was kind of bittersweet. Fourth at the Games is a big accomplishment, but at the same time you're the first guy who doesn't get a medal."
Drury and Leman came out of the Phoenix Snow Park gates third and fourth, respectively, but the field skied tightly together before a crash took out Drury and Ridzik. However, the Russian recovered in time to pull up in third, leaving Drury last.
The crash also allowed Leman to take a comfortable lead on Bischofberger, the world No. 1., right through the finish line.
"It's been a rocky road for me at the Olympics. Now, that doesn't matter and I'd do it all over again if it meant a gold medal," said Leman.
Earlier, in the 1/8 final, Montreal's Chris Del Bosco suffered a serious crash and had to be taken off the hill on a stretcher.
He was transported to hospital, where a Canadian doctor confirmed to CBC Sports that Del Bosco is in stable condition with a suspected pelvic injury.
Leman, known in ski-cross circles as "Wombat" for his self-described short and stocky physique, was ranked 13th worldwide entering the Olympics. But after two consecutive fourth-place finishes for Canada in the event – Del Bosco placed fourth in 2010 – Leman had his sights set on the podium.
In an interview with CBC Sports in January, Leman said he had no regrets about his big move in Sochi, insisting that ski-cross mentality meant first place or bust.
That mentality has followed him throughout his ski career.
The Calgary native came up the ranks as an alpine skier before discovering his passion for ski cross. He even passed up college scholarships and national funding for alpine in order to focus on it.
In Vancouver in 2010, Leman was named an alternate for Canada's ski cross team but was forced into action when Dave Duncan was hurt in a training run. But a young Leman said he got too "wide-eyed" about competing at the Olympics, and he crashed and injured himself in a training run, too.
The ski course in Pyeongchang played fast, which Leman learned the hard way after a training crash through the middle section. But he said that provided a valuable lesson.
"I knew the mistakes not to make for sure and was able to use that in the race and check a little speed which is super unnatural for us," he said. "But you had to get through that [middle] section clean and then just send it on the bottom."
With his focus on a tricky course, Leman had to remind himself not to panic if he suffered a setback early on — which is exactly what happened.
"I was fourth out of the start but was able to just pull some momentum and snuck by the guys there to get a clean course," said Leman.
Now, after coming so close in 2010 and 2014, Leman is an Olympic champion.
"It's incredible. It still really hasn't sunk in," said Leman. "But it was a big challenge and it all came together today and it's crazy. I couldn't be happier."