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A year spent building towards Sochi

A look back at 2013's memorable moments in Whistler and Pemberton sports

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It's now just a matter of weeks until we're watching the world's best compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the first Winter Games to take place since Whistler and Vancouver hosted the five-ringed circus four years ago. For many of the athletes who call Whistler home, 2013 was a time to make final preparations for the Olympics or put their names into consideration for Canada's team in Sochi. For others, it was a year to continue chasing goals of the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.

But Whistler was also as busy as ever during the summer months when it comes to sport. Crankworx reached a milestone birthday, Ironman Canada made its new home here, and athletes from the resort ran, paddled and pedalled to excellent performances while there was no snow to speak of.

It's hard to distill it all into a few highlights, but here's our take on the biggest and most memorable moments in Whistler, or by Whistler athletes, from the past 12 months.

WINTER

Pemberton's Yuki Tsubota had a busy January, winning the women's ski slopestyle title during The North Face Park and Pipe Open Series event held in Whistler. She also made her Winter X Games debut later in the month, finishing sixth. In March, Tsubota wound up in fifth place at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships in Norway.

The Whistler-based national halfpipe team turned in strong results all season as well. Some of them came during the year's first month, with Mike Riddle winning the U.S. Grand Prix in the men's event, which helped him to the Crystal Globe later in the year. Rosalind Groenewoud finished second at the women's Grand Prix event, then shared the podium with teammate Megan Gunning at the Winter X Games when they finished second and third, respectively.

Olympic women's snowboard cross champ Maëlle Ricker added "world champion" to her resumé in January when she claimed her first FIS World Snowboard Championship title at Stoneham, Que. She was the fastest qualifier, won both her quarter-final and semifinal heats, then led the way in the final as she and Canadian teammate Dominique Maltais claimed the top two spots. Ricker would also win her seventh title at the Legendary Banked Slalom in early February in Washington.

The Whistler Sliding Centre hosted the FIL Luge World Championships on Feb. 1 and 2. Germany was dominant as expected, winning all four races, but Canada had several great performances and was the only other nation to capture multiple medals. Alex Gough earned a women's bronze and joined Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith in a silver-medal finish in team relay. Edney was fifth in men's competition and Walker and Snith were fourth in the doubles race. Felix Loch (men's), Natalie Geisenberger (women's) and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt (doubles) were crowned world champs in their individual races, then teamed up as a foursome to grab the relay gold.

Marielle Thompson had an extremely frustrating start to the season, but she ended the winter with a bang. She earned a silver medal in a one-two finish with Canadian teammate Kelsey Serwa during the Olympic test event at Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 19, then went on to claim another silver at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships at Voss, Norway in mid-March.

Whistler's Mike Janyk also had a frustrating start to the year, but put in a great performance at the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships from Schladming, Austria, helping Canada to a fourth-place finish in the team event. The World Cup slalom specialist and the rest of the Canadian team missed bronze by just one-hundredth of a second in a third-place battle with Germany. Later in the month, Whistler-trained skier Ford Swette would end up on the podium in team-event competition at the Junior World Ski Championships in Quebec.

Manuel Osborne-Paradis had a very respectable winter season as he returned to the Canadian Alpine Ski Team for 2012-13 after missing nearly two full years to injury. His most notable performance came in the March 2 downhill at Kvitfjell, Norway, when he finished fourth — just one-hundredth of a second from the medal positions. The Whistler product would end the campaign ranked 13th in the downhill standings.

Morgan Pridy won back-to-back super-Gs and a combined race at Nakiska, Alta., on March 12 and 13 to secure the Nor-Am Cup titles in those disciplines. The season titles earned him a permanent place on the World Cup tour for the 2013-14 campaign.

It was a great year for Whistler Mountain Ski Club athletes all around. The club sent a team to Italy for the annual Topolino youth races and the crew fared extremely well. B.C. Ski Team member Broderick Thompson also picked up a GS victory in a FIS race in France during the team's January trip through Europe. Closer to home, Mikayla Martin captured the girls' Parsons Trophy for the second year in a row, while Riley Seger grabbed the boys' title during the long-running speed races. Seger also earned the overall title during the U16 Can-Am Western Championships at Panorama in March.

Whistler skiers were also solid during this year's Whistler Cup in April. Jack Crawford won the U16 boys' super-G and picked up silver in slalom to claim the Dave Murray Award as top Canadian and help the host country to the Nations Cup title. Finn Iles earned the U14 Dave Murray Award, edging fellow local Kasper Woolley for the honour.

Whistler Winterhawks midget hockey team earned a silver-medal finish at the B.C. Hockey Tier 3 Provincial Championships. Whistler went 4-1 in earlier tournament games before falling 5-2 to the hosts from Port Alberni in the gold medal match-up.

Marie-Michele Gagnon put on a show during the Sport Chek Canadian Alpine Championships in Whistler at the end of March, winning women's titles in slalom, GS and super-G to push her total of national championship wins to 10. Only Britt Janyk, Nancy Greene-Raine, Kathy Kreiner and Emily Brydon reached double-digits in their careers, and Gagnon achieved her total by the age of 23. Osborne-Paradis also won the men's downhill title in his first race back in Whistler since the 2010 Olympics.

As usual, the winter season wrapped up with the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF). With the ski events up first this year, Vincent Gagnier broke through for the World Skiing Invitational (WSI) big air win, having finished on the podium in 2011 and 2012, but not on time. Gus Kenworthy put the finishing touches on another AFP World Tour overall title, winning the WSI slopestyle en route to his third consecutive Sarah Burke Trophy as the tour's overall men's winner.

In some highlights from Monster Energy Shred Show snowboard competition, Maxence Parrot won the big air contest with a triple-cork 1260 to close out the WSSF. Whistler rider Jon Versteeg won the Boarderstyle event, and Norway's Emil Ulsletten edged U.S. rider Eric Willett for the slopestyle crown. Flat-track roller derby also made its WSSF debut, with hundreds of fans packed into the Whistler Conference Centre to watch the hometown Black Diamond Betties knock off Squamish's Sea to Sky Sirens 157-149 in a come-from-behind victory.

SPRING

The Nimby Fifty returned to Pemberton on May 25 and Squamish's Neal Kindree scored another victory, his second in three years at the mountain bike race. Victoria's Mical Dyck was the fastest female in the event.

James McSkimming won the 2013 edition of the Crud 2 Mud Downhill, skiing the snow leg and riding the bike park portion in a combined time of 12:03 for a comfortable margin over defending champ Robin Courcelles. McSkimming also had the top individual time in 2011.

Abbotsford's David Jackson was the winner of the third annual North Face Whistler Half Marathon, which took place in the resort on June 1. Victoria's Catrin Jones secured the women's win. Ben Biswell finished 20th overall for the top Whistler finish. The event also featured a 10K race for the first time, won by Tara Gorman and Geoff Reid.

As Kindree won his second Test of Metal in a row on June 15, Team Whistler rider Trevor Hopkins had the best result by a rider from the resort by finishing 20th overall. Jesse Melamed had a top-25 overall finish as well, and Mahon Lamont was the junior runner-up. Petra Tlamkova was sixth in the elite women's class.

Pemberton's Laoyam Eagles won the Junior A title at the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival for a 15th consecutive year on June 23.

Whistler's Brandon Semenuk finished with a silver-medal performance in the X Games debut of mountain bike slopestyle in Germany at the end of June. A couple of weeks later, he would taste victory at Crankworx Les 2 Alpes in France.

SUMMER

California's Jimmy "Rad Train" Riha captured the signature competition of the third annual Whistler Longboard Festival, taking top prize in the open downhill race held on the hairpin-filled Whistler Sliding Centre road in early July.

The B.C. Bike Race was building towards a big finish in Whistler, but was ultimately decided in Squamish on July 5 when Neal Kindree pulled out of the race due to illness in his hometown stage. That handed an easy victory to Kris Sneddon when the final stage rolled through Whistler on July 6. Whistler's own Michael Robinson placed fifth overall.

Local rider Zander Geddes had the top finish by a Whistler rider at the Canadian Downhill Championships at Panorama in mid-July, finishing fourth in junior expert men's competition. Jack Iles was seventh and Bowen Irvine placed 14th in the race. Nick Geddes was 12th in the elite men's event.

Pemberton paddlers helped Team Canada to the top of the medal table at the Dragon Boat World Championships, held in Hungary in July. Each of the eight athletes — Kayla Spencer, Aleea Dahinden, Liam Miller, Tachona Jones, Lauren Phare, Dayna Goochey, Isabel Peters and Bill McLeod — came home with multiple medals.

Finn Iles won the U15 men's title at the B.C. Downhill Mountain Bike Championships held at Silver Star at the end of July, adding to the provincial titles he won in hockey and alpine skiing in 2012. Chris Kovarik and Claire Buchar captured the elite men's and women's titles, respectively, and Jack Iles earned bronze from the junior expert men's race, behind winner Lee Jackson of Squamish.

Crankworx arrived in August, and the 10th edition of the biking festival produced some incredible and memorable moments, particularly from local riders.

Whistler's Brandon Semenuk won his second Red Bull Joyride title in three years, conquering this year's slopestyle course in spectacular fashion — his 96.4 from judges was the highest score ever recorded in the event. Fellow local Jesse Melamed didn't take down a victory but wowed hometown fans with his impressive sixth-place finish in the SRAM Canadian Open Enduro. Australia's Jared Graves made up a 20-second deficit to win on the final stage.

In other Crankworx highlights, Steve Smith won the Canadian Open and Air DH races, making it five consecutive Crankworx races the B.C. rider has won after he swept all three in 2012. Colombia's Marcelo Gutierrez Villegas won the Garbanzo DH after finishing second in 2012 and 2011, Sweden's Martin Soderstrom won the Dual Speed and Style event, and Geoff Kabush won the Canada Cup XC race.

As Crankworx was wrapping up at home, Whistler's Cathy Zeglinski was victorious on her mountain bike abroad, winning her age group title at the UCI Masters World Championships in South Africa. The local doctor won the world title despite a serious clavicle injury suffered in training, and one that would end her season prematurely upon her return to Canada.

Maureen Harriman was competing at the World Masters Games in Italy around the same time and captured three gold medals and two silvers in her rowing events.

On Aug. 25, Ironman Canada made its first appearance in Whistler after 30 years in Penticton, and the long-distance triathlon captivated locals as close to 2,500 athletes put their endurance to the test. Kelowna native Trevor Wurtele took the lead away from defending champion Matt Russell during the marathon-length running leg and held on for the victory, and Colorado's Ulli Bromme was the fastest woman, clocking with the 12th-fastest time overall.

Local triathletes were very impressive in the race as well. Whistler's Ben Biswell was quickest of all the hometown athletes, coming across the line just before the 11-hour mark and ahead of fellow local Ashley McMillan, who was just three minutes back. Marla Zucht, Timothy Moore and Julie Miller were among other Sea to Sky participants who finished in less than 12 hours.

Will Routley received a hometown hero's welcome when he was the first rider to the finish line in September's fourth annual RBC GranFondo Whistler. The local pro cyclist, participating in the ride up the Sea to Sky Highway from downtown Vancouver for the first time, pulled away from the several thousand other riders after the climb from Squamish began. Cameron Evans was the only rider who was able to keep pace, finishing 11 seconds back, while the rest of the peloton was about three minutes behind. Leah Guloien was the top women's rider for the third time in four years.

Dave Burch took home a victory from the 20th annual Westside Wheel Up on Sept. 17, holding off Chris Clark for the win. Mahon Lamont was the top junior and Robin O'Neill was the quickest female.

FALL

Believe it or not, there were some notable sports moments in that vast wasteland of athletic activity known as "October" around here in Whistler, that awkward time between seasons. An example of this came from Matt Ryan, who won the Lumpy's Epic Time Trial race up in Pemberton early in the month. Fanny Paquette was the fastest female in the event that was revived in 2012.

Pemberton stable Dreamcatcher Meadows once again secured several awards throughout the year, but one of its most notable came in autumn when it was selected as the U.S. Dressage Federation's Dressage Sport Horse Breeder of the Year, recognizing the facility as the best in North America.

As the snow started to settle in, many of Whistler's Olympic-level athletes began their push towards Sochi with great success. Marielle Thompson and Dave Duncan had incredible starts to their World Cup ski cross seasons with multiple podium finishes. Thompson won the season-opener at Nakiska, Alta., and earned a silver-medal finish at San Candido, Italy in December. The 2012 Crystal Globe winner finished in the top five of all races held in the month. Duncan, meanwhile, won both races in a back-to-back event at San Candido, the first World Cup wins of his career. Both Thompson and Duncan sat atop the season standings as the calendar flipped to 2014.

In alpine competition, the Canadian men's speed team had a few statements to make during the start to their season, as Whistler-trained skier Manuel Osborne-Paradis and teammates Erik Guay and Jan Hudec all had at least a top-four finish — and their Olympic qualifications — in the bag by Christmas. Osborne-Paradis was fourth at the downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., and Hudec earned a super-G silver at Val Gardena, Italy in December. But the biggest statement belonged to Guay, who hit the podium in the year's last two downhill races to establish Canada's new all-time mark of World Cup medals at 21. Morgan Pridy earned the first World Cup points of his career in the Beaver Creek super-G held earlier in the month, and fellow local Robbie Dixon made his return to the circuit after missing all of the previous season to injury.

In the biggest event hosted in resort this fall, the Canadian luge team had a strong performance during World Cup races held at the Whistler Sliding Centre, capturing a pair of silver medals. Alex Gough secured second place behind world champion Natalie Geisenberger of Germany on the afternoon of Dec. 7, then joined teammates Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith for a runner-up finish in relay.

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