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First Worlds gold for Thompson

Whistler ski-cross star tops field in Utah
MAGIC MARIELLE Whistler's Marielle Thompson won her first FIS World Championships gold medal in Utah on Feb. 2. PHOTO by Mateusz Kielpinski/FIS

With Olympic gold, three FIS Crystal Globes and 20 World Cup victories under her belt, Marielle Thompson is no stranger to the top of the ski-cross podium.

But until the FIS World Ski Championships race on Feb. 2, it had been a little while since she'd been there in best-on-best competition, with her last World Cup victory coming in March 2017 at Blue Mountain.

Thompson, who won a pair of pre-season races in Austria after missing every 2017-18 race save for the Winter Olympic Games after tearing her ACL and MCL, held off Switzerland's Fanny Smith and France's Alizee Baron to win the FIS World Ski Championships race at Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah on Feb. 2.

"The race was crazy. It was so tight and there was good skiing from everybody," she said. "You really had to ski well."

At the outset, Thompson fell behind Smith and Baron, so she had to manoeuvre past them as the race progressed, culminating with a late pass of Smith—who had done the same thing to Thompson the week before at Blue Mountain, Ont.

"I didn't want to be behind, but once I was there, I just knew that if I was patient, I might be able to make a few passes," she said. "After I was in second, going into the last turn, I thought 'May as well go for it and try to go around the outside and at least try to win rather than just be content with second.'

"I'm really glad it paid off. It was kind of risky. My coach said 'What are you thinking?'" she added with a laugh.

Thompson added that the inside line was bumpy and slow, so the outside line was her only chance at the victory. Also, it would give her the inside line for the next turn.

The win was also Thompson's first-ever victory in her fifth trip to the World Championships; she had a previous best of second at Voss-Myrkdalen, Norway in 2013.

"It was really, really exciting. It was something I've wanted for so long. I've come up just short a few times, so to actually do it was amazing," she said.

Thompson will enter the season's final three races as the frontrunner for her fourth Crystal Globe, but holds a narrow lead of 45 points over Smith and 50 points over Sweden's Sandra Naeslund.

"I think I've been skiing really well all season, but it was a bit frustrating in Blue Mountain to ski pretty well the whole day and get passed in the finals. That gave me a bit of extra motivation to ski my best in the U.S.," she said. "To be in the top four in every single race, I think it surpassed expectations, at least personally.

"I knew I was skiing well, but I didn't know what that would entail after not skiing for most of a year."

Thompson said her knee has held up well so far this season. She added she's been thankful for the support she has enjoyed all year, with numerous locals boosting her during her comeback campaign.

"It's really nice to have all that support," Thompson said.

It was an excellent day all around for Canadians, as three also made the small final: Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan were back to back in fifth and sixth, while Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus Mikayla Martin placed eighth.

A pair of Canadian men brought home medals, as Brady Leman and Kevin Drury were second and third, respectively, behind France's Francois Place. Reece Howden, meanwhile, wound up 17th.

Also at worlds, Canadian Alex Beaulieu-Marchand took home bronze in the big air event on Feb. 2. His two best attempts added up to 183.25, just behind champion Fabian Boesch of Switzerland (186.00) and runner-up Henrik Harlaut of Sweden (184.00).

Evan McEachran also made the final, taking ninth, while Philippe Langevin and Whistler resident Teal Harle ended up in 18th and 20th, respectively.

Elena Gaskell was the lone Canadian on the women's side, placing 15th. France's Tess Ledeux ran away with the win over American Julia Krass and Great Britain's Isabel Atkin.

The FIS World Snowboard Championships are also underway in Utah. Canada's Baptiste Brochu ended up sixth in the men's snowboard-cross contest in which American Mick Dierdorff defeated Austria's Hanno Douschan and Italy's Emanuel Perathoner. Eliot Grondin and Kevin Hill were 27th and 30th, respectively.

In the women's event, Carle Brenneman also hit the top 10 with an eighth-place finish. Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic scored the win over Great Britain's Charlotte Bankes and Italy's Michela Moioli. The only other Canuck was Meryeta Odine in 13th.

Canada held its own in the team event, with Brochu and Brenneman putting up a sixth-place finish while Grondin and Odine ended up 10th. The United States claimed the win over Italy and Germany.

In the parallel giant slalom on Feb. 4, 43-year-old Canadian veteran Jasey Jay Anderson put up a ninth-place finish. Russia's Dmitry Loginov took the win over Slovenia's Tim Mastnak and Germany's Stefan Baumeister. Canadians Sebastian Beaulieu and Arnaud Gaudet hit the top 30 in 27th and 28th, respectively.

As for the women, Megan Farrell posted the top Canadian result in 20th. Germany's Selina Joerg nicked Russia's Natalia Soboleva and Switzerland's Ladina Jenny for the win. Other Canadians in the top 30 were: Katrina Gerenser (22nd); Kaylie Buck (23rd); and Jennifer Hawkrigg (28th).

In the parallel slalom on Feb. 5, meanwhile, Darren Gardner posted the best Canadian result, finishing 17th. Loginov rolled to a second consecutive win over Italy's Roland Fischnaller and Baumeister. Anderson took 23rd.

As for the women, Buck and Farrell took 22nd and 23rd, respectively, as Switzerland's Julie Zogg knocked off Ukraine's Annamari Dancha and Germany's Ramona Hofmeister for gold.