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Marielle Thompson fourth in World Cup ski cross

Fellow BC athletes Tiana Gairns and Reece Howden earned bronze medals in Switzerland

A pair of BC ski cross racers earned World Cup hardware on March 12, with a third one narrowly missing out. 

Tiana Gairns of Prince George captured her first career podium with a bronze-medal effort at the FIS World Cup race in Veysonnaz, Switzerland. This is her fifth consecutive top-10 result, and the sixth in 10 races this season.

Whistler's two-time Olympic medallist, Marielle Thompson, also battled her way into the big final but ended up fourth. She was part of five Canadian women in the top eight, with Courtney Hoffos of Windermere finishing sixth, Hannah Schmidt of Ottawa, Ont. seventh and India Sherret of Cranbrook eighth. 

On the men’s side, Reece Howden from Cultus Lake raced to bronze as well: his sixth podium in 10 contests during the current campaign. Howden maintained his first-place ranking in the season's overall standings heading into World Cup Finals next weekend at Craigleith Ski Club in Collingwood, Ont.

“It feels pretty darn good,” said a grinning Gairns in a release. “It’s a little bit of a relief too. I feel like I’ve been pushing towards that podium for a while now, so cracking into it and getting on there feels really good.”

The women’s ski cross semifinal was a tightly contested, all-Canadian affair. Thompson and Gairns placed first and second, relegating Schmidt and Sherret to the small final.

“It was pretty cool having four Canadians together in the semis,” added Gairns. “It helped me relax and got rid of some of the nerves. It felt more like a training heat and took some of the pressure off knowing that two of us were going to go through. I was lucky enough to be one of them.”

Calgary, Alberta's Brady Leman advanced to the men's small final, winding up sixth. Kevin Drury of Toronto, Ont. placed ninth, Kris Mahler from Canmore, Alta. was 13th and Ottawa's Jared Schmidt rounded out the Canadians in 17th.

A trailblazer retires 

It's close to the end of the road for Leman, who earlier today announced his retirement after 15 years on Canada's national team. His final races will be at the imminent World Cup Finals in Collingwood. 

Leman joined Canada’s national team in 2008 and represented the Maple Leaf at three Winter Olympics. In 2018, he became the first Canadian man ever to win an Olympic ski cross medal: gold in Pyeongchang. 

“I am thankful for all that ski racing has shown me,” said Leman in a press release. “There’s been so much change in ski cross from when I started to today. I guess I’ve been doing this a long time, but the thrill of racing and winning never got old. There are so many people that played a role in supporting me, my family, friends, sponsors, teammates and coaches. I hope they all know how much I appreciate their support. And the biggest thank you of all goes to my parents who lit the spark that fuelled this amazing ride.”

Leman’s longevity and ability to reinvent himself are exemplified across his 142 World Cup starts, third most ever, his 31 World Cup podiums, second most ever, and his five World Cup wins, including three consecutive victories at Blue Mountain in Collingwood.

Moreover, the Calgarian has competed in seven World Championships, accumulating four top-10 results and a silver medal in 2019. He topped the podium at the 2016 X Games and was part of the legendary Canadian podium sweep at X Games 2010, where he won bronze.

“It is never easy when an athlete retires,” said ski cross head coach Stanley Hayer. “I think for me, Brady’s retirement is going to be much more emotional. We spent a few years racing as teammates and the last eight years as coach and athlete. The experiences that we had together are unforgettable, both on and off the hill. His results speak for themselves and his contributions to our sport will be difficult to match.”

“The best thing,” added Hayer, “is that Brady has decided to retire on his own terms, which is rare in any sport. I will forever be grateful that I am able to call him my teammate and my friend.”

“I am so fortunate to have lived these experiences,” added Leman. “The successes were rewarding, but I will most remember the time with my teammates whether training, competing, or just hanging out. Those memories will always bring a smile to my face and are probably what I’m going to miss the most about ski racing.”