Thompson tops podium at Nakiska 

Whistler skier overcomes illness to open Olympic season with a win

click to enlarge Thompson's Triumph
  • Thompson's Triumph

The last time Marielle Thompson opened her season on a World Cup ski cross podium, she went on to win Canada's first-ever individual Crystal Globe.

Now, with the Olympics a matter of weeks away, Canadian ski fans will get to see what happens when the Whistler skier begins her winter with a win.

Thompson earned the fourth World Cup victory of her career on Saturday, Dec. 7 at Nakiska, Alta., battling through illness to take top spot.

"It's really amazing," Thompson told Pique with a voice left hoarse by a bad cold. "I'm so glad that all of the training I did this summer paid off and I'm back on top. I'm super stoked.

"I'm just really hoping I can build from it, keep skiing hard and hopefully it will show on the other courses."

The 21-year-old qualified in seventh position two days earlier and went on to win all four of her race heats Saturday, including a final that was stacked with former World Cup overall winners.

"I was really focusing on my starts and trying to be as fast as I could out of the gate and I managed to get the hole shot every time, which is pretty cool," said Thompson, who added that competing while sick didn't seem to affect her too much.

"I don't think it really bothers me when I'm skiing, but when I get to the bottom I can definitely feel it a lot," she said.

In the final, Thompson held off last year's Crystal Globe winner, Fanny Smith of Switzerland, and seven-time World Cup overall titlist Ophelie David of France for the win. French skier Marielle Berger Sabbatel finished fourth.

Kelowna's Kelsey Serwa, racing for the first time since tearing her ACL before last winter's world championships, won Saturday's small final to place fifth. Georgia Simmerling finished ninth and Danielle Sundquist placed 19th to round out the Canadian results.

In Saturday's men's race, Brady Leman gave Canada a third-place finish, sharing the podium with French winner Jonas Devouassoux and silver medallist Armin Niederer of Switzerland.

Comox's Mathieu Leduc made it through to the quarter-finals but was knocked out there, finishing 12th. Whistler's Dave Duncan was eliminated in the Round of 32 and settled for 17th place, while Louis-Pierre Helie ended up 31st. No other Canadians skied into the top-32 qualifying positions during Friday's timed runs.

"It was a tough race and I was close to getting silver but just ran out of room there at the end," Leman said of the men's final in a release. "I was feeling good all day. This course is long and tiring and I felt like that really suited me."

The entire Canadian crew was hoping the Nakiska track would play to the team's strengths — 2010 Olympic course-builder Jeff Ihaksi oversaw a rebuild of the venue for the weekend races — and it certainly worked out that way for Thompson. Ihaksi was also the course designer when she earned the first win of her World Cup career at Ontario's Blue Mountain in 2012.

"I always do well on his courses. I guess they just suit my style," she said.

"I really love skiing them, it's really fun."

With that in mind, it was unfortunate for Thompson that weather conditions shortened the Nakiska event to just one race. The season was supposed to kick off with back-to-back races during the Alberta stop, but Friday's race was cancelled due to temperatures hovering around -30 C. Conditions were much better Saturday but by no means comfortable for competitors.

"That was a bummer, for sure, but I think it would have been pretty cold (on Friday)," Thompson said of the cancellation. "It was pretty damn cold today."

Nakiska was the only North American stop on this year's World Cup tour. The team is back in action Dec. 15 and 16 at Val Thorens, France, and Canadian head coach Eric Archer is heading there pleased with how his team opened the season.

"To get a first and a third, two podiums, that's what we expect," said Archer. "We'll see if we can keep this thing rolling."

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