Ricker claims her gold 

Scary moment in qualifying but Whistler rider dominates Olympic snowboardcross finals


Maelle Ricker was already a champion. In her career as a snowboarder she has won nearly every snowboard cross event there is to win - World Cups (13 of them), World Cup titles (2008 and maybe 2010 as well), X Games titles (three of them now). Less than two weeks before the Olympics she won the Legendary Mt. Baker Banked Slalom for the fourth consecutive year.

And Tuesday at Cypress, an Olympic gold medal.

It doesn't get any better. There were celebrations in the streets of Whistler, where Maelle grew up. There were celebrations in Squamish, the town Ricker - and half a dozen other members of the national team - now call home.

But while her afternoon was golden, there's no question it was an emotional roller coaster day for the 31-year-old veteran and for millions of fans.

Ricker washed out in the first qualifying run and wouldn't have qualified as one of the top 16 if organizers had held only one qualifying run, as they were rumoured to be considering because of the fog delays. Luckily there was a second run and Ricker laid down the third-fastest qualifying time of the day, behind Mellie Francon of Switzerland and Lindsey Jacobellis of the U.S.

Teammate Dominique Maltais did not have any luck, going off course on both of her qualifying runs - an improbable finish for a competitor who has been on four World Cup podiums this season, sharing all of them with Ricker.

But once the competition entered the elimination rounds it was Ricker's show. She won all her heats by huge margins and found herself in the finals against Deborah Anthonioz of France, Olivia Nobs of Switzerland and Helene Olafsen of Norway.

In the semi-finals Ricker faced Lindsey Jacobellis, the Olympic silver medalist from 2006 and favourite to win. Ricker managed to get the hole shot right from the start. Jacobellis tried to catch her on the second turn, went too high and caught an edge while trying to compensate. Her momentum carried her out of bounds and through a gate panel, ending her day early.

In the finals Ricker led from the start again and created such a huge gap that television cameras were focused mainly on the battle for second. Anthonioz claimed the silver medal and Nobs the bronze.

And the rest is history. Just as mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau was the first Canadian to win Olympic gold at home, Ricker is the first female competitor to win that honour.

"I just tried to keep it exciting," joked Ricker of her slow first qualifying run. "That was a heartbreaking first run. I just went back to the start and refocused on my lines, visualizing all the stuff we'd been training all week, all year, the last few years really. I just set out to stay on my feet and get into the finals."

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