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Canadians unbeatable at Freestyle Worlds

Three gold, one silver, one bronze



By Andrew Mitchell

Canada backed up its Nations Cup title in Italy this past weekend with a slate of strong performances, as Madonna de Campiglio hosted the FIS Freestyle World Championships — delayed since January due to the lack of snow.

The contests got started last week with the first ever men’s and women’s skicross world championships, just days before the Vancouver Organizing Committee announced plans to host skicross events during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Although no Canadian medaled — silver winner Stanley Hayer raced for his native Czech Republic instead of Canada — Whistler’s Brian Bennett and Davey Barr were 12 th and 22 nd respectively. Whistler’s Ashleigh McIvor was injured in the qualifier.

Although the halfpipe was cancelled due to the deteriorating snow conditions, the traditional moguls and aerials freestyle events took place as scheduled.

In the single moguls, which took place on a night course Friday, it was one upset after the other. For the women, Summerland’s Kristi Richards edged out teammate Jennifer Heil — World Cup and Olympic champion — to take the gold medal. It was Richards’s best performance to date in her five years with the national team.

“I’m shocked, I’m just shocked” she said. “Obviously the world championships is one of the two biggest titles you can get, and I have one of them.

“I’m definitely starting to push my boundaries and just starting to tap into my potential.”

Heil finished second after winning her last six starts, and collecting her fourth straight overall women’s title. Although disappointed with her own skiing, she gave full marks to Richards.

Stephanie St. Pierre just missed the podium, finishing in fifth place, while Audrey Robichaud was 16 th .

On the men’s side, Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Drummondville, Quebec upset World Cup and Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith — born in Canada, raised in Whistler and now competing for Australia —  winning his first gold medal since he injured his neck in training in 2002. He was even dropped from the national team last year due to his poor results in previous years, but got an opportunity to compete in the last few events of the season that placed him back on the team.

“I knew I could beat Dale because often my speed is better, and today I was really fast and I went big at the bottom (jump),” he said.

Begg-Smith picked up the silver medal, while Nathan Roberts of the U.S. took bronze.

All four Canadians in the championships qualified for the single moguls final, with Warren Tanner placing sixth, Maxime Gingras eighth and Aleandre Bilodeau 14 th .

In dual moguls the next day, which also took place under the lights, Jennifer Heil beat out Shannon Bahrke of the U.S. in the final round, while Kristi Richards lost a close one to Margarita Marbler of Austria to place fourth.

Richards came close to earning her second medal of the weekend, but nearly went off course in the small final.

“I had my best start all day and I had a really good top air,” she said. “I really thought I had it, and one bump in the middle section caught me off guard.”

Stephanie St. Pierre placed eighth, while Whistler’s Sylvia Kerfoot ended her day in 13 th place.

On the men’s side Dale Begg-Smith took the gold, followed by Guilbaut Colas of France. In the small final, Ruslan Sharifulin of Russia edged out teammate Artem Valinteev for the bronze.

The top Canadian was Alex Bilodeau in fifth place. Maxime Gingras was eighth and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau was ninth.

Defending world champion and overall World Cup winner Steve Omischl just missed in the aerials competition, placing third behind Xiaopeng Han of China, and Dmitri Dashinski of Belarus.

Jeff Bean was ninth, while Kyle Nissen just missed the finals, finishing in 13 th place.

Nina Li of China defended her title on the women’s side, with Oly Slivets of Belarus taking the silver and Jacqui Cooper of Australia placing third. Veronika Bauer was the top Canadian in seventh place.