BARDONECCHIA, Italy — Olympic observers continued their education in snowboard cross today, and the lesson was especially painful for Canadians Maelle Ricker and Dominique Maltais.
The Canadian riders were number one and two in this morning’s qualifying runs and made the final alongside the third and fourth fastest qualifiers, American Lindsey Jacobellis and Swiss Tanja Frieden respectively.
But in a spectacular finale, three of the four riders crashed in three separate incidents, handing the win to Frieden.
Whistler’s Ricker fell heavily on her back coming off a jump and was taken to hospital with what doctors suspect is a concussion. She was awake and talking after being removed from the hill on a toboggan.
Shortly after Ricker went down Maltais went over a berm and through the netting on her own.
With the two Canadians down, Jacobellis had a 10-15 metre lead on Frieden when she crashed off the second to last jump, within sight of the finish line. The American tried to grab her board while in the air, a move that many interpreted as an act of showmanship. But at a press conference following the race Jacobellis was adamant that the move was intended to stabilize her in the air.
"I had trouble with that jump all day, with the wind, and I was trying different grabs to try and stabilize," she said. "But I’m happy to have the first Olympic silver medal in snowboard cross."
Asked if the move was necessary she replied: "Yes, because it helps to stabilize the board in the air."
And asked again if she’d made any mistakes Jacobellis said: "Yes, I wasn’t able to stabilize myself in the air."
While some people were dumbfounded with the turn of events in the final bronze medalist Maltais spoke for all the riders when she said: "It’s boardercross, you know. Sometimes crashes happen."
"All of us have learned it’s never over until the finish," Frieden said. "There’s a certain amount of luck. But it’s a good sign that the top four were in the final."
North Vancouver’s Drew Neilson, who was the fastest qualifier in Thursday’s men’s snowboard cross, only to be eliminated by a crash, spoke of Ricker at the bottom of the hill. He said she was awake and talking but wasn’t sure where she was.
"It was pretty ugly but she’s a tough girl. She’s had many bad crashes, ones that I couldn’t believe she got up from. I think she’ll be fine," Neilson said.
"She destroyed the field in the time trials, much like somebody else we know," Neilson said. "It’s just unfortunate. The start got a little bit hairy and she was trying to play it safe and wait for her chance to make her move and she just had an unfortunate situation that caused her to go down on her own."
He said the wet, grabby snow that fell this morning may have played a part.
"It can grab your edge sometimes. She was just a little heel-heavy when she took off and a piece of snow just grabbed it. There might have been a mark there from an earlier race, and it just chucked her board out from underneath her. It’s happened to many people. I’ve done it myself. You’re still turning in the corner and you hit a jump and the board just goes one way and the body goes the other."
The new snow in the morning made the course slow and tricky during qualifying, with some girls just barely making it over the first couple of rollers. It got considerably faster as more riders went down.
But for the second consecutive day, the sun came out in the afternoon to make for clean, competitive elimination rounds.
Ricker was the dominant rider in qualifying, winning each run by more than a second. She also won both of her elimination rounds by comfortable margins.
Maltais had the second fastest qualifying time, 1.48 seconds behind her teammate. West Vancouver’s Erin Simmons just missed the cut with the 17 th fastest qualifying time. Dominque Vallee of Squamish was 19 th .
Guay misses medal by .10 seconds
February 18 Canadian fourth in Olympic super G
SESTRIERE, Italy — Erik Guay waited three weeks for his injured left leg to improve before he could race at the Olympics. He then had to wait another four hours – and endure a second freezing injection – when a snowstorm delayed the start of today’s super G.
When the Canadian finally got his first ever run down the Kandahar Banchetta course Saturday he came up one-tenth of a second short of an Olympic bronze medal.
"Close only counts when you’re dancing," Guay said after finishing fourth in his first Olympic event.
"There’s disappointment, there’s no doubt about it."
Guay was sitting third after 29 skiers had raced this afternoon, behind gold medal winner Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway and Swiss Ambrosi Hoffman. Austrian veteran Hermann Maier was the only remaining skier who posed a threat to the Montreal resident’s medal hopes. Maier destroyed them on his way to claiming the silver medal.
"Fourth is not a fun place to be in, I’ll tell you. It’s like the first loser," said Guay."
Maier, 33, had returned home following his sixth place finish in last Sunday’s downhill to rest and recover from a sore throat.
Meanwhile Guay, 24, had been off skis for nearly three weeks while a painful inflammation in his left leg subsided. He resumed skiing, on easy terrain, only three days ago. He described the freezing injections that were made just below his knee as "like acupuncture. A deep sort of ache; not a fun feeling."
Asked if being able to train properly would have made the difference between fourth place and a medal, Guay said: "I’m sure I’m going to be asking myself the same question for weeks and weeks.
"If I had… but I couldn’t. There’s no way that I could have trained. I would have just injured myself more."
Guay said he thought his problems came about half way through his run.
"The reason I’m most disappointed though is that middle section of the course. Middle and the bottom section I think I could have taken a little bit more chances, cut off the line a little bit more, maybe just attacked that tiny little bit more and it might have been that tenth of a second that I lost somewhere on the course," he said.
Standing in the leaders’ section beside Aamodt and Hoffman and with television cameras on the trio, Guay knew his medal hopes were threatened when he watched Maier’s run.
"I kind of new it," he said. "I saw his split time and I wasn’t so fast on the bottom section of the course and he was tied with me. I knew that he was going to be fast on the bottom part so when I saw his middle time – I was still hoping, I was hoping something would happen but… it’s part of the game, I guess."
It was heady company for Guay to be keeping. Maier leads the World Cup super G standings and was Olympic champion in the event in 1998. Aamodt was the defending Olympic super G champion and has more Olympic medals than any alpine skier in history, eight. Between them the Norwegian and the Austrian have five overall World Cup titles.
"He’s a pretty clutch skier," Guay said of Maier. "He knows how to ski under pressure. If you look at even Aamodt, he’s such a crafty vet. He’s been on the podium forever. He’s got a medal in every single Olympic Games he’s competed in. So it’s not (just) anybody that’s on the podium, but still it’s a tough position to be in fourth.
American Bode Miller continued to have problems getting both skis by the gates, hooking a tip while going about 80 km/h.
With light snow falling the super G got underway at 11 on Saturday Feb. 18. But as the snow increased and the visibility deteriorated the decision was made to restart the race in the afternoon. Seventeen skiers had started in the morning; Canadians Manuel Osborne-Paradis and John Kucera sat second and third at the time.
By the time the race was restarted at 2:45 p.m. the sun was out, spectators were singing O Solo Mio and the race track was getting faster.
Osborne-Paradis, starting third, again set the early best time. But as the sun created a glaze on the course and the better skiers started he was bumped back. He eventually finished 20 th , 1.37 seconds behind Aamodt.
"My first run had a little bit more drive in it," said the Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus. "I was just… I wouldn’t say going for it more, because I was definitely going for it this run. It just had a little bit more punch in all the turns. Even with it snowing this morning I was a little bit faster than this (afternoon) run.
"But I’m pleased that I put two decent showings down."
Francois Bourque wound up eighth and Kucera 22 nd .
Close but no medal, again
February 20 Vanderbeek fourth in women’s super G
SAN SICARIO, Italy — Kelly Vanderbeek can claim to have come closer to a medal than any other Canadian alpine skier at the Torino Olympics, but she’s the third Canadian to finish in the most frustrating position of all: fourth.
Vanderbeek set the early fast time in today’s super G, but could only watch as first Croatia’s Janica Kostelic and then Austrians Alexandra Meissnitzer and Michaela Dorfmeister posted better times and claimed all the medals.
Dorfmeister won her second gold medal of these Games in one minute, 32. 47 seconds. Kostelic claimed the silver in 1:32.74 and Meissnitzer the bronze in 1:33.06.
Kitchener, Ontario’s Vanderbeek finished .03 seconds behind Meissnitzer.
"I skied well and I had a solid run from top to bottom," Vanderbeek said. "It took me a while to trust my skis, though. I’ve skied well this whole Olympics, except for the downhill."
On Saturday Canadian Erik Guay came within .10 seconds of the bronze medal in the men’s super G. Also Monday, Francois Bourque finished fourth in the men’s giant slalom, .76 seconds short of the bronze medal.
The women’s super G was delayed a day by a snowstorm that dropped more than 20 cm of snow. Monday’s start was moved back until 2:45 in the afternoon to allow course workers to remove the snow.
"The race was very late," Dorfmeister said. "The sun had been shining on the snow all day so it was very soft.
"I was happy to get going and from the first turn I had a good feeling."
Dorfmeister, who will retire at the end of the World Cup season next month, also won the gold medal in the women’s downhill.
As for the other Canadians, Emily Brydon was ninth, Genevieve Simard 20 th and Sherry Lawrence 34 th .
Bourque disappointed with fourth
February 20 Canadian was leading GS after first run
SESTRIERE, Italy — Francois Bourque today recorded the best ever result by a Canadian male in an Olympic giant slalom, but his disappointment at missing a medal was palpable.
"The Olympics, it’s a little bit of the top three guys or nothing," Bourque said in a soft voice after finishing fourth on the icy Sises course at Sestriere.
The 21-year-old from New Richmond, Quebec had set the fastest time in this morning’s first run.
"Sure I’m a little bit disappointed to finish fourth, but at the same time if it would have been a normal World Cup I would have been pretty happy too."
Bourque wound up .92 seconds behind gold medalist Benjamin Raich of Austria. France’s Joel Chenal was second by .07 seconds. Austrian veteran Hermann Maier claimed the bronze medal.
Maier and Raich were tied for third place, behind Bourque and Chenal, after the first run.
"I was pretty happy after my first run but the closer the start was getting the more stress I was starting to feel," Bourque said at the finish.
"I had a little bit of stomach ache, like if I would punch you in the stomach. And…. that’s the way it goes. I think I will learn for next time. It’s tough luck but… I’ll survive."
Canmore’s Thomas Grandi wound up 10 th , while J.P. Roy fell on his second run. Ryan Semple’s binding plate separated from his ski on his first run. He did not finish.
Grandi, the veteran of the Canadian men’s team, was impressed by Bourque.
"He had an amazing first run. It’s a difficult place for a young racer to be in. In between runs there was a lot of time to think about what he was doing and the possible outcomes," said Grandi. "I think even for an experienced racer it’s difficult. So I think Frankie did a great job today."
In only his third season on the World Cup tour, Bourque’s best results are a pair of third places, in a super G last winter and on an icy GS course at Alta Badia, Italy earlier this winter. He currently sits ninth in the World Cup giant slalom standings. While his first run lead was a surprise to many in the press, it wasn’t to some of the competitors.
"He’s a good skier," said Kalle Palander of Finland. "There’s no pressure (on him). He likes the ice, like at Alta Badia."
Palander who wound up ninth, said the morning course was very icy, despite the fact about 20 cm of new snow fell overnight.
Asked about the difference between his two runs Bourque said: "First run I didn’t know I was that fast and second run I said well… It’s pretty hard to feel if you’re fast before you get to the finish. I knew I was going to be somewhere in there, but I wish I was one step closer."
Grandi, the only Canadian male to ever win in giant slalom at the World Cup level, was disappointed with finishing 10 th .
"I believed in a medal today and I was here to win. It didn’t work out, but that’s ski racing, that’s sports," he said.
"I think I was really on the edge all day with my grip," Grandi said of his two runs. "It was really icy and there were turns when I could really carve a clean turn, but then other turns my ski would let go on me…. I just couldn’t string together those turns that I needed to really put together two great runs."
Grandi was born in Bolzano, Italy and had several cousins in the stands to cheer him on, as well as his mother and his wife Sara Renner, who won a silver medal in cross-country skiing last week. Grandi was hoping to match his wife’s medal performance.
"It was an amazing race to watch, for me," he said of the women’s team sprint where Renner and teammate Beckie Scott finished second. "It was so exciting, all of us were cheering like crazy. It really inspired me. I just wish maybe it would have happened yesterday, I would have had a little more energy today."
Grandi still has a shot at an Olympic medal, in Saturday’s slalom. But he won’t be around for the Games in 2010, and may not return to the World Cup circuit next winter.
"That’s still something I have to decide," he said. "At the end of the season I have to think about my future and what I really want to do, if I still have the passion for this.
"I think if I do leave it’s a good time for me to leave, where there isn’t going to be a gap. There’s going to be a bunch of young guys that are ready to take over and ready to win."