After a disappointing start at Nakiska where he got edged out of contention in the semi-finals, Brady Leman tightened up his game at Telluride on Wednesday to place second overall — the first medal for the Nations Cup winning national team.
Filip Flisar of Slovenia took the checkered flag, while Armind Neiderer of Switzerland and Jean Frederic Chapuis of France were third and fourth in the final heat.
Whistler’s David Duncan got bumped out of contention in the quarter-finals, but finished ninth on the day. Rookie Ian Deans posted his second solid result in 14th and Mathieu Leduc was 17th.
Tritstan Tafel and Louis-Pierre Helie did not qualify for the race in the top 32, finishing just outside in 35th and 36th.
On the women’s side, world champion Kelsey Serwa found her groove again and qualified for the finals, where she finished fourth behind Fanny Smith of Switzerland. Ophelie David of France and Anna Holmlund of Sweden.
Whistler’s Marielle Thompson shook off her disappointing race in Nakiska where she failed to qualify for the brackets with a stronger performance. She made the semi-finals, lost and then finished last in the small final after crossing skis with another racer. She placed eigth on the day.
Georgia Simmerling and Danielle Sundquist did not qualify in the top 16 and placed 18th and 20th respectively.
Kelsey Serwa, who is returning from a knee injury and hasn't raced since January 2012, got off to a good start after posting the second-fastest time in the qualifier. Both she and teammate Georgia Simmerling (also returning from a neck injury), were bumped out of contention in the quarterfinal.
Serwa, who missed advancing by the width of a pair of knuckles (first body part to cross the line advances), placed ninth and Simmerling 16th, while Whistler's Marielle Thompson, the defending World Cup champion, just missed qualifying for a spot in the finals.
"It's the difference between a finger and that's racing — I have no regrets," said Serwa, who is the reigning world champion. "I'm really happy with my performance today and now the results will come slowly.
"My goal is to just get more confident and, you know, focus on the start sequence and just be closer to the girls — I literally skied across a girl's skis so I feel like I'm back and ready to win the next race."
Fanny Smith of Switzerland took the win, followed by Ophelie David of France and Anna Holmlund of Sweden. Switzerland's Katrin Mueller, who edged Serwa and Holmlund at the finish line, also advanced to the finals to place fourth.
On the men's side, Brady Leman looked to be on pace to win a podium when he got bumped out of contention in the semi-finals. He went on to the small final where he placed second to rank sixth overall on the day. While it's a good start, Leman — second in the World last year — expected more.
"It's disappointing any time we have a home advantage and we don't get someone on the podium," he said. "My starts were just a little off today. Sixth is still a pretty decent result, any time you get to the semifinals it's not too bad. But I wanted to be on the podium really bad today. I wanted to win."
The event marked the team's first race since Nik Zoricic was killed after crashing into some fencing near the finish line of an event in Switzerland. The event is still being investigated by Swiss authorities and the International Ski Federation, while Zoricic's family and Alpine Canada are pushing for improved safety on race courses.
The team had special uniforms made with a blue jean pattern to honour their teammate, who once competed in a pair of blue jeans, and several other tributes to their teammate to kick off the season. For Leman and others, it was important to get back to racing and start looking forward again.
"It's kind of an escape from everything to actually be on the race," he said. "We're all still out here doing what we love. I love to ski race and I love to ski. And any day I can go skiing and say, 'I went to work today,' is an amazing day. And that's exactly what Nik would want for us, is to keep going and keep having funny... I'm happy to just move on and chase that podium next week in Colorado."
Two other Canadians qualified in the top 32 to reach the finals. One of them was Louis-Pierre Helie, who made the switch from alpine to ski cross at the end of last season. He finished 25th in his debut, while Ian Deans, another newcomer, was 27th.
Helie wanted to make it past the first round, but was still happy with his first race.
"I was pretty nervous. I'm not going to lie, I didn't sleep much last night," he said. "I had a really tough heat right from the beginning, and I gave my all. I was so close to (making a pass) even at the bottom. But I'm happy, I'm learning a lot right now."
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