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Snowboarders solid but off the podium

Australians ahead of Canadians at snowboard world championships


The Canada Snowboard team had a promising start at the FIS World Snowboard Championships in Spain with Ontario's Zachary Stone winning a silver medal in the opening big air - a first for Canada in an event where European riders rule the World Cup circuit.

Canada also qualified five athletes for the snowboardcross finals at last weekend's event.

Dominique Maltais, who had won every World Cup event this season going into the championships, had to settle for third place, while Olympic champion Maëlle Ricker got caught in some netting while attempting to move from second into first and fractured her hand.

None of the men made the finals, with Francois Boivin leading the way for the men's team in seventh place.

Canada had a few solid medal contenders in the parallel giant slalom, but the best the men's team could do was a 30th place finish by Michael Lambert, with Caroline Calve placing 20th in the women's event.

In halfpipe, Whistler's Mercedes Nicoll was a solid eighth overall (behind three Chinese athletes), with Alexandra Duckworth and Sarah Conrad in 14th and 16th respectively out of 32 athletes.

"I am not overjoyed with finals," said Nicoll, who was third after the semi-final round. "I had a bad first run, and fell on the second run. That being said, I am definitely happy to have made the finals, which was my objective. A podium would have been really nice.

"Mother Nature played some games on us. I played it really safe today because of the strong winds."

On the men's side, Brad Martin led the team in 11th place, followed by Justin Lamoureux in 18th.

Martin was also happy with his result, given a few of the personal challenges he had to overcome.

"I was nursing an ankle injury (from the qualifier) so I am glad to have made it down to the bottom safely," he said. "With the wind, I was just trying to get a run down. I am very happy I made the finals. The objective entering the contest was definitely to make the finals, and then try to push myself for a podium in the finals."

Australian riders captured both halfpipe titles, with Nathan Johnstone winning the men's event, followed by Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland and Markus Malin of Finland.

For the women, it was Aussie Holly Crawford, followed by Swiss rider Ursina Haller and Jiayu Liu of China.

The Canadian alpine team did better in the parallel slalom with Caroline Calve in 18th and Ariane Lavigne in 22nd. Matthew Morison was seventh for the men, with Michael Lambert moving up to 12th.

"I raced strong today, but unfortunately couldn't find the speed to beat (Swiss rider Simon) Schoch," said Morison.

Schoch went on to place second, after losing his final duel against Benjamin Karl of Austria. Rok Marguc of Slovenia was third.

For the women, the top three were Hilde-Katrine Engeli of Norway, followed by Nicolien Sauerbreij of the Netherlands and Claudia Riegler of Austria.

The final event was the slopestyle, the first ever held at a FIS world championship. That event was watched closely by the International Olympic Committee, which is considering the sport for the 2014 Winter Games.

Canada had a good day with two athletes in the top 10. Justin Beaulieu placed sixth and Robby Balharry, who trained with the Whistler Valley Snowboard Club, was seventh out of 45 starters.

One the women's side the top athlete was Samm Denena in 14th, followed by Alexandra Duckworth in 17th.

"I am more than satisfied with the sixth place," said Beaulieu. "I was aiming at a top 12 here.

"The course had five rail set-ups, and that certainly helped me out because I am good on rails. I took advantage of that for sure, and abused them as much as I could."

Overall, it was an average world championship for the Canadians with two medals. Meanwhile the Australian team picked up three gold medals at the championships, with Alex Pullin winning men's snowboardcross the previous weekend.

The world championships, which take place every two years, are important for a number of reasons. Before an Olympics, a world championship is a qualifier event for the Games, and it's important when it comes to earning Olympic berths and athletes qualifying to represent their countries. Post-Olympics, Canadian athletes that have strong results in the Olympics can qualify for senior status in Sport Canada's Athlete Assistance Program. Senior carded athletes that meet the criteria - top eight to top 16 in the results, depending on the number of athletes taking part - get $1,500 per month to help cover their living and training expenses for two years.