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Thompson: ski cross season hasn't "sunk in" yet

Amidst tragedy, Marielle Thompson claims Crystal Globe

It was the best of seasons, it was the worst of seasons. Borrowing from Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities is a fair way to sum up the past year in Ski Cross, with the death of Canada's Nik Zoricic in the second-to-last race of the season casting a long shadow over the team's accomplishments.

In the end, the team won the Nations Cup for the fourth straight year, despite injuries to three of four members of the senior women's team — Olympic Champion Ashleigh McIvor, World Champion Kelsey Serwa and World Champion runner up Julia Murray. All of the athletes contributed — five different men reached the podium this year — but without a question the outstanding athlete for the team was Whistler's Marielle Thompson.

Just 19, and in her second year with the team, Thompson earned her first World Cup podium in the first race of the season. After that she caught fire, making the podium five more times. She won three races, and was leading the overall standings when Zoricic was killed in Switzerland. The last two races were cancelled, and Thompson was handed the overall Crystal Globe.

She'll never have a chance to race those last two events, but if momentum counts for anything she did win the previous two events and had the momentum.

It was a sad way to end the season, and Thompson is still coming to grips with it.

"It's definitely taken a lot of processing around everything that's happened, but I'm definitely taking all the good as well as the bad," she said. "I still don't think the fact that I won the Crystal Globe has sunk in — it's been a while now, and I've just been carrying it around in my car."

Being the only member of the senior women's team was also different, but she said she did get used to it. "It's definitely different," she said. "At the start of the season I had Kelsey (Serwa) there, and Georgia (Simmerling) and Nick (Mariannick Therer) until halfway, but I was on my own a lot after that. But I got used to it. The guys are really supportive and great for training with. It was good to see all their different lines and they were always there to ask for advice. But it was a bit weird not having a roommate.

"For training I had to go out there with all the other single girls," she added, referring to the girls on the World Cup tour that were alone representing their countries. "That was fine, but I missed being able to talk to the other girls, and figure out what they're doing and how I could be even faster. Even in preseason training it's great to have teammates because it's great to have a benchmark. You know if you're tight with the other girls in timing then we're all doing well."

Thompson's goal coming into the season was to earn a podium, and after she accomplished that in the first race she set the bar higher and made it her goal to win a gold medal. The Crystal Globe was never a goal until near the end of the season.

Next season will be a little tougher with all of her teammates healthy, but Thompson said she's looking forward to it.

"(Winning the Crystal Globe) has definitely made me a lot more positive," she said. "I haven't set any goals for next season, but I'm going to be a bit more aggressive. This year, I didn't really know what would happen. I had some good results last season, so coming into this season I just thought I would try to get a podium — that would be sweet. Then it happened in the first race and that just kept me going the whole season, it kept me encouraged and ready to go."

The team's on a short break, but preparation for the 2013 season — a critical Olympic qualifying year — will get underway in May with fitness testing and the first dryland training in Whistler. While her other teammates have headed out on trips, Thompson decided to stay close to home and get in some spring skiing.

She also hasn't made any plans for any of the prize money she won.

"I haven't really thought of anything yet," she said. "The big purchase this past year was a car, which was a big purchase for me at the time. I'm just saving it now, and maybe in the future I'll think of something to do with it."

As a newcomer to the team, Thompson doesn't have any personal sponsors, but said that Alpine Canada — the organizing body for ski cross in Canada — is working to find sponsors for her and for Brady Leman, who finished second in the standings in men's ski cross this season.

As for the loss of a teammate, Thompson said it's been hard because the athletes on the team are all so close and spend so much time together. The first time the team raced since Zoricic's death was at nationals in Nakiska, and it was a very emotional event.

"It was really tough, but we all had him there with us on our helmets and everywhere we looked we were reminded," she said. "In a way it was good to get back into a competitive mindset so we can start moving past it and move forward. But for a while there, as a team it was pretty tough. Everybody lost a great friend."

While the death of teammate underlined the dangers of the sport, Thompson said her confidence came back pretty quickly at nationals. "It was a pretty mellow course but there were some good features and you really had to be on it," she said. "What happened to Nik brought some insight and realization into what we do, and the fact that things can happen. But we also do it for the love of the sport. We do it because we love it. Nobody wants to stop."