With most of the podium threats in women’s ski cross back at full health, Whistler’s Marielle Thompson knows it’ll be a tough test to win another Crystal Globe.
And as she begins her defence of last season’s World Cup title, Thompson also knows other racers are keeping a closer eye on her than before.
“I can definitely feel all the other girls eyeing me up and gunning for me on the race course now,” she laughed Monday (Dec. 3) from Calgary. “But it just makes me work harder.”
The World Cup season opens Saturday (Dec. 8) at Nakiska, Alta., where Alpine Canada staged the national championships last Saturday (Dec. 1).
Thompson, who claimed the last two Canadian women’s titles, was the top Canuck again on Dec. 1 by placing sixth against a World Cup-calibre field. The preseason test has her itching to get the more meaningful races underway.
“I really want to get going,” she said. “After nationals on the weekend and getting some of the cobwebs out, it’s going to be really great getting back out on the World Cup.”
Also getting back to the circuit are several top skiers who missed all or part of last season.
Norway’s Marte Gjefsen, the 2012 X Games champ, sat out several races last winter, but won at Nakiska last Saturday. Swiss skier Sanna Luedi — who led the World Cup points race until getting injured last season — was back healthy as well.
Sweden’s Anna Holmlund, the 2010-11 overall champ who missed all of last winter, didn’t race at the Canadian Championships, but is expected to make her return this weekend.
The most notable is Thompson’s own teammate Kelsey Serwa, who is back from a knee injury and will defend her world championship title later this season. Veteran Canadian team member Danielle Sundquist (nee Poleschuk) is also returning after a season away.
“With all these girls coming back, it’s going to be tough,” said Thompson, 20. “But with the preparations I’ve made, I think I’ll be right in there.”
Thompson’s individual season title was the first ever won by a Canadian in ski cross, and it came in just her second year of World Cup racing. Though she benefitted from some top skiers sitting out injured, she showed tremendous consistency down the stretch to secure the Crystal Globe.
Thompson started the 2011-12 season by earning the first World Cup podium of her career. She ended it by winning three of the final five races.
While Thompson expects it to be a more challenging year on the tour, she said she won’t change her approach while gunning for another title.
“I’m going to go race-to-race and not get too ahead of myself. That definitely worked last year,” she said. “I’m going out there to do my best every single time and I don’t go out there to lose.”
Nakiska is hosting a World Cup race for the first time on Saturday, part of a two-race, North American kickoff to the season. Thompson won her only other World Cup start on Canadian snow, notching the first victory of her career last season at Ontario’s Blue Mountain.
Whistler’s Sarah Lepine also raced at last weekend’s national championships and finished 18th, fourth among Canadians.
New race suits a Zoricic tribute
The Canadian ski cross team unveiled new race suits for the 2012-13 season that honour late teammate Nik Zoricic, who died in a crash at the final World Cup race last season.
The men’s and women’s teams will wear pants inspired by blue jeans as a tribute to Zoricic, who famously skied a World Cup qualifier in denim early in his career. Whistler resident and veteran team member Dave Duncan, who was close with Zoricic, was thrilled with the new outfits.
“This is the most excited I’ve been to put on a Canadian ski cross uniform,” said Duncan. “It’s a way of keeping Nik with us.”
Thompson also liked the look of the new suits, which have jackets based on last year’s design but use red stripes instead of Canada’s traditional alpine yellow.
“Descente has done a really nice job making them look good. Our cool factor is definitely going to be up with these suits,” she said. “It’s awesome that we can show our respect to Nik on the hill and while we’re skiing.”