Big changes for Canada Ski Cross 

Retirement of several athletes, including Whistler's Julia Murray, means smaller team for 2012-2013

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The Canadian Ski Cross Team is nothing if not deep, winning the overall Nations Cup title for the second straight year despite serious knee injuries to three of its top female racers and minor injuries for members of the men's team.

But while the talent pool is deep, it's also gotten smaller. In the last few weeks, the team has seen several senior athletes announce plans for retirement. Veterans Davey Barr and Brain Bennett both stepped down this year, while Whistler's Stan Rey announced recently that he would be making the shift to big mountain freeskiing. Last week, Whistler's Julia Murray announced that she would retire, concerned that another knee injury on the scale of the one that kept her off the slopes all for all of last season could permanently hamper her mobility in the future.

Georgia Simmerling, an alpine athlete who was added to the roster at the start of the 2011-2012 season but missed most of the races with injuries to her neck and back.

As well, athlete Nik Zoricic was killed during a race on March 10, a tragedy that is still under investigation by Swiss authorities and the International Ski Federation (FIS), which is in charge of sanctioning races and ensuring that they meet safety requirements. A CBC story revealed that Zoricic's family is not alone in demanding an inquiry into the accident, with several national sport organizations and athletes also supporting a wider investigation.

As a result, the team will be smaller in 2012-2013 with a roster of just eight athletes — many of them proven veterans, all of them World Cup medallists.

Returning from injury are Olympic champion Ashleigh McIvor and World Champion Kesley Serwa. Serwa did race at the start of the season, but injured her knee before the halfway point. Danielle Poleschuk of Calgary will also return after battling an injury of her own this past season.

The fourth member of the women's team is Whistler's Marielle Thompson, who had a breakthrough season with her first World Cup medal, then her first World Cup gold medal, then repeated podium results that put her first overall in the women's standings at the end of the year to earn her the Crystal Globe.

The men's team includes reigning X Games and World Champion Chris Del Bosco, Brady Leman, who placed second overall on the World Cup tour after returning from injury, Dave Duncan, who earned two podiums last season, and Tristan Tafel, who earned his first World Cup podium in what was his first full season with the World Cup tour.

"When Ashleigh returns, we will have three world champions and eight athletes who have had World Cup podiums," said Dave Ellis, director of Ski Cross for Alpine Canada. "We're looking forward to having everyone back."

As well as defending their Nations Cup title, there are some bigger fish to fry this season including a FIS World Championship and Olympic qualifications.

"We have some very strong programs on both the men's and women's side, and we have set some big goals for the coming season," said Dave Ellis. "We want to remain number one in the world and will be gunning for a men's or women's overall title again.

"It's a world championship year and we will be going for more podiums there. We are also into the Olympic qualification cycle so the pressure starts to build from here."

As well as the national senior team, the team confirmed six members that will be part of the national prospect development group. That group includes Louis-Pierre Helie, who made the switch from the World Cup alpine team in the spring; Georgia Simmerling when she returns; NorAm Cup champion Ian Deans of Kelowna; Whistler's Robert Lepine, and Mathieu Leduc and Mariannick There from Quebec.

Overall, the team is young. Chris Del Bosco is the oldest member of the team at 30, followed by Duncan at 29 and McIvor at 28. The average age is just over 25 for the senior team, while the average age for prospects is 22.


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