Nicoll takes bronze on home turf 

Europeans lead World Cup haul

Whistler’s SnowScene World Cup weekend wrapped up on a high note this year, with a pair of homegrown athletes making it to the halfpipe finals and holding their own against the best in the world in the same superpipe where they learned their best tricks.

Mercedes Nicoll won Canada’s only medal of the weekend, but five Canadians managed to finish in the top-10 in the snowboard cross, parallel giant slalom and halfpipe competitions. For spectators, the events did not disappoint with some close races, a few crashes, and some impressive tricks.

Ricker seventh in O’Neill Snowboard Cross

It’s been a few years since Maelle Ricker of Whistler and Vancouver competed in World Cup snowboard cross.

Prior to 2001, Ricker was among the most dominant female riders in the sport, winning the X-Games and no fewer than four World Cup gold medals with her aggressive riding style. In 2000 she was named the Transworld Snowboarding female rider of the year.

After 1999 she didn’t get any full seasons in snowboard cross, as a string of knee ligament injuries kept her on the sidelines. Her last World Cup appearance in the sport was in 2001, when she was eighth in the World Snowboard Championships.

Following the last injury, Ricker focused more on her halfpipe riding, and has been one of the top-ranked Canadians on the World Cup circuit.

This year’s SnowScene Nokia Snowboard FIS World Cup marked Ricker’s return to snowboard cross, and things couldn’t have gone better for the 25-year old.

Although she has been out of competitions recently with another injury, Ricker was definitely not out of practice.

"I’m not used to riding this aggressively because of my injury, so I’m happy with today’s result," Ricker said of her seventh place finish.

Even though the World Cup competition has gotten stiffer recently – snowboard cross was named as an Olympic discipline last year – she held her own against girls on racing boards that haven’t missed a race in years.

"I was a little timid in the opening part of the course, but it was a good start to the week."

After being edged out in the semi-finals, Ricker was relegated to the small final where she finished third in the bracket, to place seventh overall.

Ricker was the lone Canadian to make it into the finals. Dominique Maltais, Erin Simmons, Lindsay Edwards, Cori Olafson, Candice Drouin and Desiree Labrecque came up short of the top-16 in the qualifiers.

Karine Ruby of France took the gold medal, followed by Jennifer Frino of Italy and Marie Laissus of France.

In the men’s competition, only four Canadians qualified for the round of 32. Vancouver’s Drew Neilson, one of the favourites, was tied up with another competitor in his first heat and finished the day in 18 th .

Francois Boivin of Jonquiere, Quebec did a little better and finished 12 th .

"I tried to press the guy the whole way, but he just stayed in front of me and squeezed me out at the finish," said Boivin, 21. "It’s a little frustrating because my goal heading into the week was to at least make it to the semi-finals."

Carl Cowtan of Kelowna finished 16 th and Whistler’s Mike Robertson was 22 nd .

Mont Tremblant’s Jasey Jay Anderson, a three-time overall World Cup snowboard champion, crashed in the qualifier. Tom Veliseck, Brad Tetreau, Robert Fagan, Adam McLeish, and Whistler’s Perry Bizyk, Ben Wainwright, and Kevin Allen also finished out of the round of 32.

Florent Mather gave France its second gold medal of the day. He was followed closely by Simone Malusa of Italy, and Dieter Krassnig of Austria was a close third.

Anderson fourth in PGS

After falling in the snowboard cross qualifier, Jasey Jay Anderson focused his attention on the parallel giant slalom contest. Ranked third overall in the PGS, Anderson hoped to improve his position with a podium finish.

Anderson was solid all day, beating competitors in two runs to advance to the semi-final round, where a mistake in the middle of the course cost him in his first run against Simon Schoch of Switzerland. In the hole by 0.88 seconds, Anderson made another mistake on his second run while trying to close the gap and was relegated to the small final.

Thrown off his game, Anderson pulled out all stops against Stefan Kaltschuetz of Austria in the race to decide third place, and the two racers were neck and neck until a small mistake on the last pitch. Down by 0.23 seconds, Anderson once again made a few errors in trying to close the gap in the second run and finished the day in fourth.

"I’m feeling pretty good out there," said Anderson, who was upbeat about his performance. "I’m right in every race, it’s just a few small things that are costing me, but I’m pretty happy. I’m having fun."

Anderson said he almost quit racing because he couldn’t find a snowboard on the market to match his riding style. He hooked up with Toronto-based Coiler Snowboards before last season and says the difference was immediate.

"I was on the podium right away. I have confidence in my board now, and alpine racing is a lot of fun for me again," he said.

In the final race, a dominant Siegfried Grabner of Austria beat Schoch easily in a pair of races to claim the gold. Schoch was second and Kaltscheutz third.

The women’s PGS went to Ursula Bruhin of Switzerland, followed by teammate Daniela Meuli. Michelle Gorgone of the U.S. edged out Marion Kreiner of Austria in the small final.

Nicoll third, Raymond sixth in halfpipe

The World Cup halfpipe is one of the toughest events on the circuit with only the top-six women and top-10 men qualifying for the final rounds.

Although the Canadians did well in qualifying, only three would move on to the finals. Only one of those athletes, Whistler’s Mercedes Nicoll, was a member of the national team.

Nicoll held her ground against a tough field of Europeans in the first run, scoring 39.3 with a solid performance that included some grabs and 540’s. She was bumped into third place by Manuela Laura Pesko of Switzerland and Australia’s Torah Jane Bright.

In the second run, nobody beat Nicoll’s first round score, giving the 20-year-old her second bronze medal at home in as many years.

"I’m really happy with my riding today. I’m proud that I was landing everything cleanly," said Nicoll.

Nicoll says she trained a lot heading into the contest, but tried to relax on the morning of the competition with a little powder riding in the trees.

"It’s good to go for a little ride with my friends, because I didn’t feel that nervous up top. I felt pretty good, and had a good run," she said.

Nicoll has been working a lot of tricks in practice that she isn’t quite ready to bring into competitions, but she hopes to be landing her inverted tricks and some extra spins in World Cup contests this year. She also plans to enter more pro contests in the U.S., like the Vans Triple Crown, U.S. Open, and other top contests.

The real battle for gold was between Bright and Pesko, with Bright landing 540 McTwists and Pesko nailing a clean 720. Bright had the advantage after the first run, but Pesko went just a little higher and a little cleaner on her second run to claim the gold.

In the men’s competition, Canada was represented by Whistler’s Dan Raymond and Brad Martin of Ancaster, Ontario.

Raymond jumped to the front of the pack early with a run that started off with a 720 and an inverted 720 that was good enough for a score of 39.6.

Originally from Quebec, Raymond has been coaching and teaching snowboarding in Whistler for the past five years, entering every local contest that he could.

"It’s been a real progression for me, riding little $20 contests here a few years ago to competing in a World Cup," said Raymond, who has his sights set on the 2006 Olympics.

"My goal today was just to qualify, to get into the finals, but to go out and land two good runs like that without making any mistakes was beyond anything I hoped for. I saw that I could compete at this level."

Still, Raymond says it’s going to take a little more work to get on the podium, but he’s confident he can get there.

"I know that my 720s are solid, so now I have to go out and work on my 9s (900 spins) and 10s (1080’s)," said Raymond.

I’ve also never hit the frontside wall as hard as I did today, and I’m excited that I got away with it. You don’t want to push your own boundaries like that in a competition, but I had a lot more speed than I expected going into the wall so I just went for it and it turned out great. It’s not something people would notice, but I got a lot of personal confidence from that."

Although he finished in 10th place among the finalists, 17-year-old Brad Martin from the national development team had to feel good about his performance on Saturday. His tricks were bigger and better than his final score of 29.4 shows, and if he didn’t wash out on a couple of landings he would have finished a lot higher in the rankings. The crowd gave him one of the loudest cheers of the day for his aggressive second run.

Takaharu Nakai of Japan won the gold medal with a run that the other riders will be talking about for a long time, launching more than 15 feet out of the pipe and getting inverted on his very first trick. Nothing seemed to phase Nakai, who went bigger than the other riders and stuck some incredible landings lower down on the transition.

Nakai was followed by Xavier Hoffmann of Germany, last year’s winner, after the veteran pulled out an incredible second run with a clean 1080 near the bottom of the course.

Jan Michaelis, also of Germany, claimed third with a run that included two inverted tricks and a 900 spin.

Coverage of the 2003 Nokia Snowboard FIS World Cup at Whistler will be on CBC television this Saturday, Dec. 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time.

For more information on the Canadian Team and the World Cup, visit the Canadian Snowboard Federation at www.csf.ca.

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