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McIvor back on skis, but will ease into season

Knee injury at X Games sidelined Olympic Champion

The World Cup ski cross season will get underway in Italy the week before Christmas, followed by events in Austria and France in the New Year. While the Canadian team will be out in force to battle for medals, the team will likely be missing one of its top skiers for the first part of the season.

Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor confirmed this week that her recovery has been slower than expected, although she has been reassured that it's normal for her type of injury.

"It's taking longer than I thought, but everybody seems to think it's normal when it's your second time around," she said. "It's the second time I've torn this ACL, and I did a lot of damage to the rest of the joint, with bone bruising, a divot in my femur and a lot of damage to the cartilage.

"What it means is that I have to play it by ear and see how it's feeling, and take it one step at a time. Right now I'm not likely (to be cleared) for the first races."

Until the last week she's been focusing on physiotherapy and keeping a base level of fitness that's well below where she would be if she was healthy. However, this past week she's been given the go-ahead to push herself more in the gym and add some heavy weightlifting to her routine. She won't ski until she's physically ready.

"I need to get strong before so I don't go out there and hurt myself again," she said.

McIvor has sat out seasons before, the most recent being 2008 when she injured her left knee for the first time after overshooting the transition on a jump. While it's difficult to come back, she's proven a few times that she can come back better after an injury.

"I've sat out seasons before, and come back stronger," she said. "The last time I hurt myself and had to miss a season I came back and won the world championships the next year and the Olympics the year after that. I have a history of doing well in these situations - maybe because there are no expectations and I come into the races feeling relaxed."

McIvor doesn't hold a grudge against the Winter X Games for the course they built last season. She was injured during training on a rhythm section of the course where she overshot a triple and landed flat - a course feature that the organizers eventually changed because of the number of crashes. Two of her teammates, Kelsey Serwa and Whistler's Marielle Thompson, were also injured - Serwa crashing at the finish line while winning the race, and Thompson breaking her thumbs over the same jump.

"It's the same story with the X Games year after year," laughed McIvor. "Before the Olympics we thought they were going to mellow the course out because it was the last race before the Olympics and we got there and it was bigger than ever.

"And this year (2011 Winter X Games), honestly the finish jump was just ridiculous. It was bigger than the big air jump, and only two of us girls actually hit it in training."

One of those skiers was McIvor; the other was French skier Ophelie David, who has more wins in ski cross than any other athlete.

The organizers eventually changed the feature and made it a little smaller for the women's event, but the angle of the lip wasn't quite right. As a result the women - including Serwa - overshot the transition by a long way, landing hard on the finish line.

This year's X Games are in the last weekend of January, but McIvor does not know if she'll be competing by then.

"Obviously I want to get my knee back in order, that's my number one priority. After that it's the world championships (in 2013) and the Olympics (in 2014), and all the stepping stones on that journey," she said.

In the meantime, she's enjoying the time at home.

"It's really nice to be home," she said. "I managed to go up on opening day and ski one run, because that's all I was allowed, but it was great. It's honestly kind of nice to be with family and friends, and not feeling the pressure building up for that first race and wondering how I'll stack up, and all the pre-season nerves my teammates have right now."