Whistler’s Marielle Thompson returned to the podium on Tuesday (Feb. 19) at the same place where she’ll gun for Olympic gold in less than a year.
The 20-year-old was part of a one-two finish with Kelowna’s Kelsey Serwa in the World Cup ski cross stop at Sochi, Russia, one of several test events run this past week ahead of the 2014 Games.
The result provided a big boost for Thompson, who has struggled to qualify for race heats this season while defending her overall World Cup title from a year ago.
“I kind of knew I was back skiing well. Today I kind of got into the zone,” said Thompson, who thought the Sochi track suited her well.
“When I’m having fun on the course, I feel like I definitely do better and this course was a lot of fun from Day 1. I was just really excited to run it and get out on the snow every day, and it definitely played to my strengths with a lot of air and a lot of gliding.”
Qualifiers have been the trip-up for Thompson in races this season, and she was again outside the top 16 in Tuesday’s timed runs. But with the women’s race field expanded to 32 at Sochi, she was still involved with race heats and made it through the opening round before winning her quarter-final.
“I didn’t feel like I was not skiing well … in (qualifiers) I just kept making silly mistakes that cost me a lot of time, so it’s not like I was questioning whether or not I was fast enough,” Thompson said of her struggles this season.
Thompson met up with Serwa in the semis, and the two advanced through to the final together. Serwa held a slight lead over Fanny Smith in the final, but the Swiss skier fell on a passing attempt, allowing Thompson to move into the runner-up spot for the one-two Canadian finish. Previously, Thompson’s best result this season was an eighth place at Telluride, Colo., in December.
All four Canadians made it to the quarter-finals, as Georgia Simmerling placed 13th and Danielle Sundquist was 16th.
With several World Cup races and the world championships yet to come, Thompson said it’s too early to read into what the podium finish in Sochi means for her Olympic chances.
“I’m not really thinking about next year yet, I’m just trying to go one race at a time,” she said.
Tuesday also marked the return of world champion Chris Del Bosco to the Canadian men’s team, and he hit the podium in second place in his first race back from injury. Tristan Tafel won the men’s small final to place fifth, while Brady Leman was 13th and Whistler’s Dave Duncan finished 22nd after being eliminated in the opening round.
Roz G locks up Sochi spot
Three skiers from the Whistler-based Canadian halfpipe team collected podium finishes from their test event in Sochi on Saturday (Feb. 16), led by a silver medal from Rosalind Groenewoud in the women’s final.
Groenewoud, who shared the podium with teammate and bronze medallist Keltie Hansen, secured a berth to the Olympics with the result.
“Being on the podium here gives me a bit of a confidence boost going into next year to know that I can perform well in this pipe,” said Groenewoud, 23.
“I think (early Olympic qualification) will make me focus on making decisions to win the Olympics, as opposed to just qualifying for the Games,” she added. “Now I’m just going to work towards being really rested and performing the best possible at the Olympics.”
Her score of 79.0 put her just behind winner Virginie Faivre (80.8), while Hansen scored a 76.4 for bronze, her best result of the season.
Mike Riddle also picked up a bronze medal in the men’s event, bringing him a step closer to a Sochi berth. The 26-year-old earned an 88.2 from judges to place behind U.S. stars Torin Yater-Wallace (93.8) and Gus Kenworthy (90.0).
“I was just happy to put down a run today because conditions were tough,” said Riddle, who counted his first-run score, but had a “nerve-wracking” wait to find out if he’d stay on the podium with four skiers dropping in after his second run.
Noah Bowman was the only other Canadian in the final, placing 10th.
In moguls, Mikael Kingsbury continued his dominance with another men’s victory in Sochi on Friday, which also cemented an Olympic berth for the Quebec skier. Canadian teammate Phillipe Marquis hit the podium in third spot.
Whistler’s Eddie Hicks was hopeful to return from injury in time for the test event, but did not travel with the team to Russia. He is now targeting mid-March for his comeback.
Audrey Robichaud finished fifth in the superfinal for the top Canadian women’s result. Whistler’s Chelsea Henitiuk finished 21st.
Sochi was also scheduled to host a ski slopestyle event this past week, but the competition was cancelled due to lack of snow.
Snowboarders struggle in Sochi
Sea to Sky snowboarders didn’t realize the same success in their test events at Sochi during the week, but Whistler rider Maëlle Ricker said she’s excited to head back there next year despite an uncharacteristic finish in Sunday’s (Feb. 17) snowboard cross World Cup.
Ricker qualified third, but was eliminated in the quarter-finals, finishing 17th. Whistler’s Carle Brenneman was also knocked out in the first round and placed 15th.
“The experience has been great,” Ricker said of her time in Sochi. “The course is good, but the weather has been a bit crazy. But Canada Snowboard and the Canadian Olympic Committee have been taking great care of all the athletes. I’m looking forward to coming back next year.”
In the women’s halfpipe World Cup held at Sochi last Thursday (Feb. 14), Whistler’s Mercedes Nicoll finished 15th. She placed ninth in the initial qualifier to get into the semifinals, but finished ninth in the semis, needing a top-six result to advance.
Also from Sochi, Kaillie Humphries extended her women’s bobsleigh podium streak to 13 races and wrapped up the World Cup season title when she and partner Chelsea Valois finished third on Friday (Feb. 15). Lyndon Rush and Jesse Lumsden also secured the season championship in two-man racing with a fourth-place finish at Sochi on Saturday (Feb. 16). World Cup luge racing will conclude in Sochi this weekend as well.