Having the FIS World Snowboard Championships early in the winter schedule was not the best situation for Whistler’s Mercedes Nicoll and the rest of her teammates on the Canadian halfpipe team.
The veteran rider headed into the event at Stoneham, Que., with just one contest under her belt and little training in advance, making her 14th-place finish from Sunday (Jan. 20) a frustrating result.
“I was pretty disappointed,” said the 29-year-old, whose career-best at a world championships came in 2011 when she was eighth. “I definitely haven’t been on snow or in the pipe enough, so I wasn’t 100 per cent comfortable with my riding and it kind of showed.”
Nicoll finished sixth in her qualifying heat, needing a top-five finish to advance to the semifinals. Young U.S. rider Arielle Gold won gold, Australia’s Holly Crawford earned silver and France’s Sophie Rodriguez took bronze.
Limited funding, combined with most halfpipes around North America only coming into form in the past couple of weeks, has contributed to Nicoll not getting as much training done in advance of the world championships. A World Cup going next week at Park City, Utah, was originally postponed from December, so Nicoll had been to just one contest before Stoneham.
“I’m just trying to get in the pipe now as much as possible before Russia,” said Nicoll, referring to the Olympic test event at Sochi later this winter. “The (Whistler Blackcomb) halfpipe is open now and it’s good, so I’m happy to be home and training here.”
Whistler’s Dan Raymond, head coach of Canada’s halfpipe team, said it was a mixed bag of results for his athletes.
“In Mercedes’s case, it was below expectations, but she’s had a rough start to the season trick-wise,” said Raymond. “She’s just starting to gain some steam, so to speak. (In the past) she’s started with a couple of frustrating results and then finished the season on a good note. It’s just too bad all the fall contests got cancelled and she didn’t get those out of the way then.”
However, Raymond was pleased to see Alexandra Duckworth and Brad Martin each hit the top 10 in women’s and men’s action, respectively.
Raymond said he’ll be bringing the team to Whistler for training next month before the Sochi World Cup. In the lead-up to next year’s Olympics, Raymond said he’s been trying bring his athletes’ level up to that of the top riders along the way.
“Instead of just trying to qualify for the next Olympics, our goal is to develop tricks that will make us competitive at the Olympics,” he said. “That’s a much different outlook towards the season than just, ‘Oh, here’s a series of competitions, let’s go and repeat what’s worked in the past.’ That will qualify us, but it might not make us competitive, so we’re pushing the envelope a bit this season to close that gap.”
Canadians were impressive in slopestyle last week in Stoneham, as North Vancouver’s Spencer O’Brien became the women’s world champion. Her winning score of 93.25 put her well ahead of the field, with silver medallist Sina Candrian of Switzerland and third-place finisher Torah Bright of Australia more than 10 points back. Mark McMorris took silver in the men’s event behind Finland’s Roope Tonteri. Another Finn, Janne Korpi, took bronze, while Canadians Robby Balharry and Matts Kulisek were in the top 10.
Ricker hopes for return to podium
Maëlle Ricker’s world championships get underway Thursday (Jan. 24) at Stoneham with snowboard cross qualifications, followed by finals on Saturday (Jan. 26).
After taking some test runs on Tuesday (Jan. 22), Ricker said she liked the course and was excited to get back to racing, since it’s been a month since the last World Cup event.
“Because it’s been so cold out here, the snow is running a little bit slow today, but I think it will be fine and speed up through the week,” said Ricker.
The 33-year-old has plenty of reason to believe she can make a return to the worlds podium this week. Not only has she had top-five finishes at the past four world championships, including a bronze in Whistler in 2005, she’s historically been very successful at Stoneham, earning victories in each of her last two World Cup starts.
“The last two times I’ve been here, I’ve been on top, so hopefully I can do it a third time in a row,” she said.