Whistler's McIvor 'made for gold' 

Ski cross winner inspired by Maëlle Ricker's performance in snowboardcross


It felt more like she was at the top of Blackcomb getting ready to drop into CBC trees, not an Olympic start gate preparing for a gold medal race.

That's just how relaxed and at home Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor was at the start of her fateful run down the Olympic ski cross course at Cypress Tuesday.

Gone were the jitters. Gone the nerves. Ahead was one of her favourite courses and at the bottom a crazed stadium cheering her on to victory.

She knew she could do it; she just knew. And it was obvious to everyone there that this was McIvor's day.

"This is the only race of my life where I just felt like I was going to win," she said, clutching her Olympic flowers, the presentation of her gold medal to come later Tuesday night.

"I just felt like it was my race and my course, just felt really connected to it and it all worked out."

The 26 year old is the second Sea to Sky athlete to win gold at the 2010 Olympics. Maëlle Ricker won the women's snowboard cross last week.

McIvor drew strength from that win, which was on the same Cypress course.

"Maëlle was just a real inspiration," said McIvor. "She made me go 'OK, local girl, this event was made for us.' I was almost thinking, 'I was made for this event' in the start - that's what I kept telling myself."

With the snow falling at long last at Cypress, McIvor's smile stretched from ear to ear.

As the current ski cross world champion she was one of the favourites heading into the race and was at the front of the pack in most of her four heats. When asked how she made it look so easy coach Willy Raine, son of 1968 Olympic champion Nancy Greene Raine - who was also there cheering on the ladies - said simply: "It's 'cause when you're that good, it is easy."

That's not to say things can't go wrong. The start at the Cypress course is very tricky, with a lot of skiers finding it tough right out of the gate. And there is little room for error in the rest of the race, with four skiers jostling for position the whole way down the course.

Hedda Berntsen of Norway took silver and France's Marion Josserand the bronze in the finals.

But the whole Canadian ski cross team put in a strong showing, with 20-year-old Kelsey Serwa winning the small final to take fifth place and Whistler's Julia Murray, who raced with a torn ACL, coming in 12 th .

Murray battled over the last month to be strong enough to race despite the knee injury, which happened in Lake Placid in January.

"It was definitely worth it to work that hard to come here even though I didn't make the finals," said Murray.

"It (her knee injury) was always in the back of my mind. Unfortunately, it's hard just to kind of wash away."

She thanked everyone in Whistler for all the support over the years.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I tried. I really, really, wish I could be on the podium.

"I did everything I could."

Canada's Danielle Poleschuk came 19 th .

At the bottom of the course in the grandstands, fans didn't disappoint the Canadian team and the two Whistler girls in particular. They held big white letters that spelled out "GO ASH GO" while more signs rang out in support for the others.

Teammate Chris Del Bosco, who narrowly missed the podium in the men's ski cross finals Sunday, knew McIvor had what it takes to win gold.

"It's more nerve wracking when you're watching, I think, then when you're actually racing 'cause you don't have any control over the situation," said Del Bosco, of his tense time in the grandstands watching the final unfold. "I knew she had a good start, all she had to do was hold it together.

"She did everything right today. I'm really happy for her.

"She has a great love for the sport. She's an amazing competitor."

When asked what this gold medal would do to the sport, which made its Olympic debut in the 2010 Games, Del Bosco pointed to the three Canadian men in the top 10 of the men's race and the fifth place finish from Serwa.

"This whole event... was just a huge showcase for our sport," he said.

Like her teammates who were gracious in their defeat, McIvor had ready thanks for everyone who played a part in getting her to the top of the podium.

"Thank you to the whole community of Whistler for everything you've done for me, all my coaches," said McIvor. "Everybody has played a role in this journey.

"I can't even believe I'm here."


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