Canada's Serwa and Phelan win gold, silver in women's ski cross
Nation matches its best Winter Olympic showing with 26 medals
By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
When Brittany Phelan moved to the ski cross discipline from alpine a few years ago, she quickly struck up a friendship with Kelsey Serwa.
They describe themselves as best buds now and are often inseparable. They train together, hang out regularly, and sometimes even race against each other.
On Friday, they did something different together. They stood side by side on an Olympic podium.
Serwa won gold and Phelan took the silver in the women's ski cross competition at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, giving Canada a repeat 1-2 Olympic finish from four years ago in Sochi.
"I think it's that camaraderie, that friendship that helped bring us to this spot today," Serwa said. "We didn't come out here to participate. We came out here to win.
"To do it together is unbelievable. I'm so pumped."
Starting in the middle gate positions for the four-skier big final, the Canadians were in tough against Switzerland's Fanny Smith and World Cup leader Sandra Naeslund of Sweden.
The skiers were bunched together in the early going before Serwa, from Kelowna, B.C., moved ahead to stay.
"I was really present through the whole track, through the start feeling the terrain," Serwa said. "I think that was my difference-maker today."
Phelan, from Mont-Tremblant, Que., was in fourth at one point before making a bold double pass midway down the Phoenix Park course.
"I saw my chance and took it," she said.
The Canadians remained one-two over the last few jumps, staying compact to keep their speed through the line. The race was reviewed for a couple minutes before the finish order was finalized.
Serwa, who won silver in Sochi behind Marielle Thompson, had finally made it to the top step of the Olympic podium while Phelan earned her first career Olympic medal.
Smith held off Naeslund for the bronze medal.
"They blew my mind," said Canadian skicross coach Stanley Hayer. "That final was unbelievable."
Thompson eliminated early
Thompson, from Whistler, B.C., was eliminated in the opening heat. It was her first competitive event since undergoing knee surgery last fall.
India Sherret of Cranbrook, B.C., was also knocked out in the first heat after a fall midway down the course. She crashed into a roller and had to be taken off on a sled.
Sherret was in stable condition and was taken to hospital for tests, a team official said. There was no immediate word on the extent of her injury.
Canadian skiers have won all three women's races since ski cross was added to the Olympic program in 2010. Ashleigh McIvor was victorious at the Vancouver Games.
The Canadian men had been held off the Olympic ski cross podium until Brady Leman won gold here earlier in the week.
"Everything today went perfect," Serwa said. "It went to plan, I executed."
"It's been such an amazing day," added Phelan. "To finish second behind my best friend and someone who's really taught me everything — it couldn't have gone better."
Thompson had the fastest time in the seeding round but had a slow start in her heat and spun out after the first jump.
"I'm quite disappointed with how that race went, especially having won seeding yesterday," Thompson said. "But I'm really proud that I was able to race here and to compete for Canada, so that was an accomplishment unto itself."
After four months of rehab and training, her Olympic return lasted just 11 seconds.
"Just got a little stood up in the air," Hayer said. "I think she crossed her tips a little bit. That's the way it goes unfortunately."
Serwa and Phelan were like sisters on the podium at a news conference afterwards, smiling at each other and bumping fists as they gave each other compliments.
"She's pretty much taught me everything in ski cross and has had no secrets," Phelan said. "Even the other day in training, I was struggling a little bit with some of my technique.
"She just talked it through and just figured it all out. She's been amazing."
They trained hard together to get to this point, even documenting some of their unique routines on Instagram.
In one post, Phelan is doing push-ups with Serwa on top of her, doing push-ups herself while gripping Phelan's lower legs and resting her feet on Phelan's shoulder blades.
They were roommates on this trip and got up together at 5 a.m. on race day. They talked about course details through the morning and once they reached the final, gave each other some words of encouragement at the start gate and bumped fists again.
They would soon be on their way to Olympic glory.
"Once we were over the last jump I was like, 'Oh my God,"' Phelan said. "We did it. That was the plan and we did it and it feels so good."
With files from CBC Sports