By Andrew Mitchell
Despite a shortened schedule due to the lack of snow in Europe, Canadian freestylers are making the most of the events that organizers do manage to get off the ground.
This week the mogul team was at La Plagne, France for a pair of moguls competitions — the first since mid-January, due to weather issues.
Olympic champion Jennifer Heil collected her first gold medal of the season, after taking silver in the previous two races and crashing in the race before that.
Heil dedicated her win to Sandra Laoura of France, the Olympic bronze medalist who suffered a spinal injury while training for the World Cup at Mont-Gabriel, Quebec in January. It is unknown whether Laoura will recover the full use of her legs, after returning to France to undergo extensive rehabilitation.
“I really wanted to go out there and win a medal for Sandra,” said Heil, noting that La Plagne is Laoura’s home mountain. “It was a huge source of motivation for me today. There was a lot of support here for her.
“Overall I felt really good about my performance today. I had really great training in Utah, which is considered the most difficult course in the world. I felt I was able to take it up to the next level. It’s so important for our tour to have races here. It’s like we have a season again.”
Deborah Scanzio of Italy picked up the silver medal, while Margarita Marbler of Austria edged out B.C.’s Kristi Richards for the bronze. Audrey Robichaud placed eighth, while Whistler’s Sylvia Kerfoot was 12 th .
On the men’s side, Alex Bilodeau of Quebec overcame a rough week and stressful day to pick up a silver medal.
First he broke two pairs of skis in training, and was forced to use his gear from last year. In qualifying, a bolt broke on his binding but he still managed to finish first with his bindings only partially mounted.
“It was a very stressful day, I’ve never been so nervous,” said Bilodeau. “I was wondering what more could go wrong before the qualifier and then the bolt pops out. But I just focused on what I had to do. In the final I had a great run despite a small error at the bottom of the course. I’m very pleased and relieved.”
The gold medal went to Sami Mustonen of Finland, while Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith — who grew up in Whistler but competes for Australia — picked up the bronze.
Pierre-Alexander Rousseau of Quebec placed sixth, his third top-10 result of the season. Maxime Gingras was seventh.
In dual moguls Heil was the girl to beat once again, besting opponent after opponent to make her way into the finals against Ingrid Berntsen of Norway. Kristi Richards just missed the bronze medal after losing to Berntsen in the semi-final, and then losing again to Sara Kjellin of Sweden.
Stephanie St. Pierre placed sixth, Audrey Robichaud 11 th and Sylvia Kerfoot 12 th .
In the men’s dual slalom, Gregoire Dufosse of France took the win, edging out Dale Begg-Smith. Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Quebec picked up his first medal after missing most of 2005 and 2006 with a neck injury, beating Guibalt Colas in the small final.
Alexandre Bilodeau was fourth and Maxime Gingras 12 th out of 47 starters.