Nearly two years since her last ski cross race, Olympic champion Ashleigh McIvor announced her retirement from the sport on Friday (Nov. 16).
Calling it “the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make,” during a press conference in Vancouver, the Whistler native walks away from racing with a phenomenal list of accomplishments on skis and a bright future ahead in other pursuits.
“I’ve gone back and forth in my mind, wondering if I’m making the right decision to retire,” McIvor said Friday. “But I’ve already done more in the sport than I ever imagined would be possible. And there’s something to be said for going out on top — as the reigning Olympic champion.”
The 29-year-old recorded 11 podium finishes in 28 World Cup starts during her career. Though she won just three major races over that time, they came when it counted most — one victory gave her the first-ever Olympic gold medal awarded in women’s ski cross during the 2010 Games; another made her the world champion at Inawashiro, Japan, in 2009.
“I truly feel that anyone, having grown up the way I did, with the opportunities I’ve been given, could have gone out and done what I did,” said McIvor, also a silver medallist at the 2010 X Games. “I’m just the lucky one who got to represent what we Whistler people are all about.”
McIvor tore the ACL in her left knee during training for the Winter X Games in Aspen midway through the post-Olympic season and never returned to competition. She had previously torn the same ACL back in 2005.
Although the knee has healed to the point where McIvor could return to racing this winter as originally planned, she said the injury still factored into her decision to retire.
“My knee is still on the mend and I would be trying to push it to get results this season and put myself in a position to perform at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia,” McIvor said. “I’ve decided that it’s more important to me to be able to ski recreationally — now and for the rest of my life. I have career opportunities that are time sensitive and a great life outside of racing.”
McIvor’s retirement announcement came 22 months to the day of her last race — a sixth-place finish in a World Cup stop at Les Contamines, France, in early 2011 — but she’s remained in the spotlight throughout that time.
Since winning Olympic gold at Cypress Mountain, McIvor has been inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, provided colour commentary during World Cup broadcasts, done a bunch of modelling work — most notably stripping down out of her ski gear for an Acura ad — while also making headlines for a high-profile romance with Vancouver Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit. The two announced their engagement last month.
McIvor said she plans to continue working with sponsors while getting back into more freeskiing as she leaves the racing career behind.
“The timing works, as far as making the transition to the next phase of my career — making the most of the opportunities that have presented themselves based on the success I’ve had as a ski cross athlete,” she said.
McIvor is the fourth Whistler-based skier to leave the Canadian ski cross team this offseason, joining Julia Murray, Davey Barr and Stan Rey in retirement. Murray, who attended McIvor’s announcement with Barr on Friday, also had knee injuries that contributed to her calling it quits.
The Canadian women will still have a strong squad for the upcoming season, as Whistler’s Marielle Thompson comes in as the reigning World Cup overall title-holder, while 2011 world champion Kelsey Serwa and veteran racer Danielle Sundquist are set to return from injury. The season opens Dec. 8 at Nakiska, Alta., the lone Canadian World Cup stop this winter.
“I will continue to cheer for my teammates,” said McIvor. “I have always been their biggest fan — even when racing against them.”