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Canadians climb podium at world championships

Anderson, Ricker, Boivin take home medals in PGS, snowboardcross

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In conditions that have ranged from an arctic freeze to rain, the Canadian team has put on a solid performance at home so far in the FIS Snowboard World Championships, with athletes on every podium but one.

"What I’m really pleased with is the depth of the team," said Tom McIllfaterick, the CEO of the Canadian Snowboard Federation. "We had athletes come back from injuries and make a difference, like Maëlle Ricker. (Jasey-Jay) Anderson had some bad luck in his (snowboardcross) heat, and three other guys stepped up. We had four athletes in the top six, and that’s pretty good."

In the snowboardcross finals on Sunday, all four Canadian men and three out of four women qualified. The course was fast, long, with lots of passing from top to bottom and riders going off course.

Of the four Canadian men that qualified, all made it past the first round into the round of 16 with aggressive riding.

Anderson spun a complete 360 in his quarter-final run while overtaking the leader, but made a strong comeback towards the end of the run by passing the third place rider. If the course has been another 20 metres, he might have overtaken the second place rider to move on, but instead had to settle for third in his heat.

Robert Fagan of Cornerbrook also went down in the Round of 16. He was leading his heat against Seth Wescott of the U.S., who bumped him while passing him for the lead. He lost enough speed that Jayson Hale, another American, managed to pull ahead around the next corner. The Americans stayed together until the end, blocking out any chance Fagan had of regaining the lead or moving to the next round.

That left Tom Velisek and Francois Boivin in the semi-finals for Canada.

Velisek got off to a strong start in his run, but was bumped back to third in the corners.

"It was kind of disappointing, losing it in the lead. I came down really strong, and there was some pushing around with the other guys and I lost it," said Velisek. "That’s boardercross, it’s nothing to be mad about. The course was really great, better than anything we’ve been on, and there were lots of places to pass without being really sketchy."

Boivin grabbed the hole shot in his semi-final run and held onto the lead the whole way down.

In the finals, Boivin faced Wescott, Hale and Michale Layer of Germany. Wescott took the hole shot and Boivin passed Hale to gain a solid foothold on the number two spot, which was how it ended – Wescott with the gold, Boivin with the silver, and Hale with the bronze. Velisek had a good small final race to finish sixth, Anderson was 10 th , and Fagan 12 th out of 32 qualifiers.

Boivin, 22, was filling in for an injured Drew Neilson after returning to the national team only a few weeks earlier. He said he enjoyed every race, and the course couldn’t have been any more exciting for him.

"I had to pass someone in every race today just to stay in it. In the first race I got off to a bad start and managed to pass two people to be in second. The races after that I went from third into second. It was good to get the hole shot, but there were lots of places to pass, which is what you want in a boardercross," he said. "You just had to wait for your chance.

"I feel bad that Drew couldn’t be here today, this is his home course and it was his kind of race, but I’m glad I could do something. I didn’t even see what happened to the other Canadians, but everybody is riding really well, really strong, so it could have been anybody standing here."

With all four athletes managing top-16 results, all will be able to qualify for the Sport Canada Athlete Assistance Program, which will support each athlete by $20,000 a year.

In the women’s competition, Erin Simmons of North Vancouver was knocked out in the first round, but both Dominique Maltais and Maelle Ricker managed to qualify for the finals with dominating performances in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

In the last competition, Lindsey Jacobellis took the hole shot with Maltais hot on her heels. Maltais stayed in pursuit until she spun out on the second last turn, allowing Karine Ruby of France and Ricker to pass her.

Ricker said she had a bad start, and was rooting for Maltais from the back until the accident happened.

"I really didn’t have a very good start, I was behind after the first corner," said Ricker, 24. "I tried to catch up but it was a fast field. It was too bad when Dominique went down, she’s really been riding well lately and deserved the medal."

For herself, Ricker was excited to win her first medal after coming back from her eighth knee surgery. The runs were long and technical and Ricker says her knee was hurting near the end.

"I’m not 100 per cent right now, and I don’t think I’m going to be for a while. I’m stoked to be back on the podium, it’s been a long time with all of the injuries, and it was good to see that I can still compete at this level even if I’m not in the best shape."

She loved the course, which she says was one of the longest and most physically demanding she’s ever ridden.

"By the time you get to the bottom, you’re just exhausted, and you can’t breathe. I can see why so many people lost it near the bottom, it really took a lot out of you. But it was awesome, it was really fast and technical, and there was lots of passing going on. You couldn’t just get a good start and shut the door on everybody, you had to be aggressive from top to bottom."

Ricker will compete in the halfpipe Saturday after taking a couple of days off to rest her legs and switch gears.

Anderson takes PGS

At the opening ceremonies for the 2005 FIS Snowboard World Championships, Canadian flag bearer Jasey-Jay Anderson wished all the competitors good luck, then joked that they were going to need it to beat the Canadian riders.

Like Babe Ruth calling his shot, Anderson backed up the joke on Tuesday with a convincing win over Switzerland’s Urs Eislin in the parallel GS finals.

Before the event, Anderson received a new design of snowboard from his manufacturer, specifically in order to compete with the Swiss riders that have been on the new design all season. He was concerned that he wouldn’t have enough time on snow to get used to the new board, but he didn’t lose a heat all day.

"This is even better than I could have dreamed," said Anderson. "Winning in Canada like this and having my family here to experience it is an unbelievably great feeling. I’m looking forward to keeping it going tomorrow."

Nicolas Huet of France edged out Adam Smith of the U.S. in the small final to win the bronze medal.

Two other Canadians finished in the top-30 – Philippe Berube in 21 st and Justin-Claude Dumont in 26 th .

In the women’s race, Manuela Riegler of Austria was first, using her experience to beat newcomer Svetlana Boldikova in the final round. Doresia Krings of Austria also beat another Russian, Ekaterina Tudigescheva, in the small final to finish third.

The Canadian riders were last in their races.

The FIS Snowboard World Championships continue this Friday, Jan. 21 with The Province Big Air. The qualifier will run from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., followed by the finals from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Base II.

The last event is the McDonald’s Halfpipe under the lights on Saturday. The qualifier will take place from 9 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m., and the finals from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The Excalibur gondola is free for spectators as far as Base II.