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Freestyle team strikes gold, bronze in China

Omischl back in form to win aerial event, take leader’s bib

By Andrew Mitchell

Like other World Cup winter sports, the Canadian freestyle moguls team was disappointed the start of their season was delayed last weekend by the lack of snow at Tignes, France.

The skiercross team — recently getting the thumbs up from the International Olympic Committee and International Ski Federation for inclusion into the 2010 Games — also saw their first event, at Kreischberg, Austria, cancelled.

But while Europe struggles with a lack of snow, there was enough white stuff on the ground to hold a pair of World Cup aerials competitions at Jilin Beida Lake, China. Two Canucks managed to nab a pair of medals, while other Canadian athletes placed just off the podium in the top-10.

On day one it was Ottawa’s Jeff Bean who stole the show for the deep Canadian men’s team, placing third behind Ryan St. Onge of the U.S. and China’s Xiaopeng Han, the reigning Olympic champion.

Bean, a notoriously slow starter, was pleased to start this season — likely his last — on a high note.

“Last season was an interesting one, with a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “There was so much on the line, and then to go to the Olympics…”

Bean edged out Calgary’s Kyle Nissen for the final spot on the Olympic team by just a handful of points, then had a disappointing performance to place 19 th .

Last Saturday, Nissen started the day well in second place after his first jump, but made a few mistakes on his second jump to drop to fourth. Steve Omischl was fifth and Cord Spero 10 th to give Canada four athletes in the top-10.

The Canadian women’s team is continuing to struggle with injuries. Recently Deidra Dionne of Red Deer, Alberta — one of the most consistent members of the women’s team — announced she was taking the season off to recover from additional surgery to repair a neck injury. Teammates Veronika Bauer and Amber Peterson opted to stay home and train for the North American leg of the World Cup tour in January, which means none of the Canadian female jumpers took part.

It was a Chinese podium sweep with Nina Li first, Xin Zhang second, and Jiao Wang third.

On day two, North Bay’s Steve Omischl took the gold medal and the yellow leader’s bib.

Although Omischl was the 2005 world champion and overall World Cup champion, he missed several events last year with a heel injury. The Chinese World Cup events show how well he has recovered.

“I wanted to be as aggressive as I could, and I was exactly that,” he said. “I was a bit more intense before the competition. My speed was off a little bit and I landed before I wanted to, but I had good landings.”

Timofei Silvets and Alexei Grishin of Belarus placed second and third, while Cord Spero just missed the podium in fourth place.

“This is a difficult event to get up for. Everyone’s beat up,” said Spero, referring to the flatter landing area at the Chinese facility.

In the second women’s event Nina Li took gold for a second straight day, while Jacqui Cooper of Australia scooped up the silver. Mengtao Xu of China was third.

Aerials events scheduled at Tignes, France this weekend may be held if the weather stays cold enough and enough natural snow continues to fall. Moguls events planned for last weekend may also take place.