Whistler boarders golden at snowboard opener 

Neilson, Ricker knock off top seeds in Chilean World Cup

It’s a long way from Whistler to Valle Nevado, Chile, but well worth the trip for Canadian snowboarder Drew Neilson. The 28-year-old led the World Cup snowboard cross final heat from top to bottom on Sept. 12, edging out Xavier Delerue of France, Junte Grunelius of Sweden and Jordi Fon of Spain.

Although he netted four podiums last season after returning to the World Cup tour, last week was Neilson’s first World Cup win since he won at home in Whistler in 1998.

"It was a really fast course and you had to take some risks," said Neilson. "The visibility was bad and there were a few surprises."

One of those surprises claimed world champion Jasey Jay Andersson of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, who bumped his head after some contact in the preliminary rounds. He still finished that race and qualified for the final, but heeded the advice of doctors to take the rest of the day off.

Aside from the fact that he didn’t get to race Anderson in the final, Neilson was happy with the competition and his performance.

"It’s a great way to start the season. Last year I ended the year with a win on another circuit, so I guess I’m on a roll."

The IOC is considering adding snowboard cross to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. If it is included, we can expect to see Neilson at a lot more World Cup contests.

"I have my fingers cross that the snowboard cross will get into the Games. If it does, I certainly plan to continue until then. It’s a dream to win an Olympic gold for Canada," he said.

In the women’s snowboard cross, Ursula Fingerlos of Austria held off three French riders to take the gold medal. Deborah Anthonioz was second, followed by Marie Laissus and Karine Ruby.

For Canada, Melissa Barclay of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Quebec, was 16 th . Alexa Loo of Whistler and Amy Newton of Rossland failed to qualify.

In the halfpipe competition on the following day, Vancouver and Whistler boarder Maëlle Ricker earned the gold medal ahead of Gretchen Bleiler and 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark of the U.S.

"The key for me was to have a clean run," said Ricker. "Everyone else seemed to have a bobble here and there and the judges hit you hard when you make a mistake."

Last season Ricker was Canada’s top female in the World Cup halfpipe circuit with four top-five finishes, including a silver medal performance, and came into this season ranked fifth overall. It was the 23-year-old’s first World Cup win since she dominated both the snowboard cross and halfpipe at Whistler in 1999.

"I just came here to basically get some September snowboarding in and have some fun. This is a bonus for me, especially against such a strong field," she said.

Ricker was the only Canadian in Chile competing in the halfpipe.

The World Cup season continues from Nov. 11 to 13 with events in Garmisch, Germany.

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