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Air Canada takes four medals at World Championships

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Freestyler team earns one in moguls, three in aerials

The Canadian Freestyle Ski Team did not field a world champion in any of the three disciplines at the 2003 Freestyle FIS World Championships in Park City, but the team can hold its head high with four medals and strong showings in every event. If anything, the results from this year’s competition confirm Canada’s position as a superpower on the freestyle circuit.

World Cup rookie Stephanie St. Pierre set the tone for the weekend with a bronze medal finish in the moguls. The 17-year-old, who started the season as a member of the national development team, won her first World Cup gold medal in dual moguls the week before the World Championships, and led a group of four Canadians into the finals at Park City by qualifying in third place. All four Canadians went on to finish in the top-10 in the 16-skier finals on Jan. 31.

"This is going to change my life, for sure," said St. Pierre. "I’m really psyched, but I don’t believe it yet. I’m like a little child."

The gold medal went to Kari Traa of Norway, the most dominant woman in mogul skiing in recent years. She posted the highest marks for her turns and the fastest time to the bottom by more than 3.5 seconds to finish with a final score of 27.99.

Michelle Roark of the U.S. led the American team to its most successful World Championship in a long time with her silver medal performance. She had the most air points as well as the second-best best turn points to finish with 27.13.

St. Pierre was fifth in turns, third in air and the second fastest skier, to finish with the bronze medal and a score of 26.46.

Also for Canada, Elisa Kurylowicz of Manotick, Ontario, finished in sixth place, Kristi Richards of Summerland, B.C., finished eighth, and Tami Bradley of Vancouver and Whistler was ninth.

For the women’s team, the World Championships marked the first time that every member of the team in the contest qualified for the finals.

In the men’s moguls, Stephane Rochon of St-Sauveur, Quebec, was the lone Canadian to qualify for the finals. He was on his way to the podium when an awkward jump and landing off the second jump interrupted a near-perfect run.

"I feel I never skied the middle section that nicely in my career, but my bottom jump was the main problem," said Rochon, who made his seventh top-10 finish at the World Championships since 1995.

"I tried to level myself and tried a double-twister spread, but it wasn’t the cleanest double-twister spread I’ve done," he said.

The gold medal went to Mikko Ronkainen, 24, of Finland. "I don’t think it was a beatable run," observed Rochon.

Ronkainen tied silver medallist Jeremy Bloom of the U.S. for second in air points, but led in turns and time to post a score of 28.09. Bloom had better turns that teammate Toby Dawson, who placed third, but Dawson was slightly faster. They scored 27.33 and 27.22 respectively.

In the dual moguls on Feb. 1, three Canadians reached the quarter finals, but were unable to make the podium.

Rochon was the top Canadian, finishing fifth after winning the consolation round. He might have finished higher if the brackets had been a little different – the 28-year-old Rochon faced an unstoppable Jeremy Bloom in the quarter-finals.

"Jeremy was really on from the beginning, he was the guy," said Rochon, who was competing with a taped ankle as a result of a ligament injury he sustained in the off-season.

Bloom took the gold medal, followed by Yugo Tsukita of Japan and teammate Toby Dawson.

"When I look at everything I’ve achieved this week, it was really more than I expected after hurting my ankle last summer," he said.

Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Drummondville, Quebec finished in eighth position after the consolation round. Scott Bellavance of Prince George tied eight others for ninth spot.

Tami Bradley was the top Canadian in the women’s dual moguls, finishing in seventh place. St. Pierre and Kurylowicz tied for ninth, and Sylvia Kerfoot of Vancouver tied for 17 th .

Bradley lost her bid for the podium in the quarter-finals after facing Traa of Norway. The pair had split their last four matches, but it was Traa’s turn to win.

"I gave it my all," said Bradley. "I felt her stumble up top, but she saved it, and I was trying to keep up all the way.

"I am bummed out. I wanted a medal and I wanted a medal badly."

Traa went on to win the gold, followed by Marina Cherkasova of Russia and Shannon Bahrke of the U.S.

In the aerials that evening, Canada’s fortunes would change.

In the women’s competition, two Canadians, Veronika Bauer of Toronto and Deidra Dionne of Red Deer, Alberta, posted personal best jump scores of 204.47 and 192.05 respectively. The bad news was that Alisa Camplin of Australia scored a new record of 207.31 points to take the gold medal.

"It’s actually a relief, but I’m so happy because I’ve jumped the best I’ve ever jumped," said Bauer, 22. Bauer was the defending champion after winning the world championships in Whistler in 2001.

For Dionne, 20, the bronze medal complements the bronze she won in the Olympics a year ago.

"Just to be on the podium at another major competition is so relieving," she said. "It’s so awesome to share the podium with my teammate again."

Veronica Brenner of Sharon, Ontario finished in fourth place for Canada. Melissa Prefontaine of Grande Prairie, Alberta, was 17 th and Karen MacDonald of Toronto was 21 st .

In the men’s contest, 23-year-old Steve Omischl of North Bay, Ontario was the top Canadian in third place with a score of 251.20. Dmitri Arkhipov of Russia took the gold medal with a 259.65, followed by Alexei Grichin of Belarus with a 257.98.

"I didn’t even jump my best today," said Omischl.

"I’m going with some redemption," he added, referring to his 11th place finish at the same venue in the recent Winter Games. "To come back and win a medal here where I slapped back (at the Olympics) is very satisfying."

The Freestyle World Cup season continues this weekend with moguls and aerials at Steamboat Springs in Utah, before events in Japan, the Czech Republic and Norway.