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Gagnon captures historic alpine victory

World Cup wrap: Canadian skier grabs country's first super-combined triumph

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Marie-Michele Gagnon's excellent season continued with an historic result this weekend, as she captured the first victory of her career and Canada's first ever in a World Cup super combined at Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria.

The 24-year-old held more than a three-tenths advantage over Austria's Michaela Kirchgasser on Sunday, Jan. 12 after posting the second-fastest slalom run of the day for the win.

"This is quite an ecstatic feeling. I'm still shaking," Gagnon said following the victory. "The first podium was really cool but a win is a win — no one else beat you. It's incredible. It's really special."

Gagnon followed up on the victory with another top-10 finish — her ninth of the World Cup season — in the Austrian night slalom held Tuesday, Jan. 14 at Flachau. Canada's Erin Mielzynski also raced both events, finishing 26th in super combined and 21st in slalom.

Meanwhile, Ontario's Larisa Yurkiw beat the odds by completing her Olympic qualification with a career-best sixth-place finish in the Altenmarkt downhill on Saturday, Jan. 11.

Yurkiw, who was dropped from the national team in the offseason but has continued to fund her race career independently, needed two top-12 finishes this season to punch her ticket to Sochi. She earned the other qualifier with a seventh-place finish at Lake Louise early in the season.

In men's World Cup racing, Whistler's Mike Janyk was held out of the points for a second consecutive race when he skied out of the slalom held Sunday at Adelboden, Switzerland. Canadian racer Brad Spence managed a 20th-place finish.

Men's racing remains in Switzerland this weekend with a super combined, downhill and slalom taking place at Wengen from Jan. 17 to 19.

RIDDLE SECOND, DOREY WINS CRYSTAL GLOBE

Mike Riddle returned to the podium and Justin Dorey captured the Crystal Globe when the World Cup halfpipe ski season wrapped up on Sunday, Jan. 12 at Breckenridge, Colo.

Riddle earned a score of 85.20 from judges to finish in second place, one week after sitting out a World Cup contest in Calgary due to injury. U.S. skier David Wise (89.00) took top spot and France's Kevin Rolland (82.00) grabbed bronze.

Meanwhile, Whistler skiers Dorey and Simon d'Artois placed sixth and seventh, respectively, and the result was enough to give Dorey the overall season title.

Faced with dumping snow on Sunday, it ended up working in Riddle's favour that he qualified in the 16th and final position because it put him first on the start list for the final.

"With the heavy snowfall, speed was a big factor," said Riddle. "To be able to start with the course freshly groomed and with the help of our wax tech, Kenny, I was pretty much able to maintain my speed throughout my entire run which was critical to performance today."

There were just four World Cup events on the schedule this year but Dorey finished among the top six three times, highlighted by a victory at the Calgary event. He ended up with a comfortable lead over U.S. skier Aaron Blunck in the standings, while Riddle placed third.

"Something like the AFP overall is typically more significant for us, but the Crystal Globe is by far the coolest trophy I've ever seen, so I'm pretty stoked about it," Dorey told Pique on Monday, Jan. 13 while travelling to his next event at Park City, Utah.

"It was kind of a nice surprise yesterday after the event, I didn't even know I was in the running for it.

"Consistency has been a big goal of mine for this season and that Globe is a good representation of it."

For d'Artois, Sunday's result marked the second time he's placed seventh in a contest this year and came on the heels of his fifth-place finish in Calgary. The back-to-back U.S. Grand Prix contests scheduled for Park City on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 17 and 18, are his final chances to make a case for inclusion on the Olympic team.

"I just have to lay down a clean run and do my best," said d'Artois. "(Park City) is an awesome venue... and I'm excited to check it out."

Meanwhile, Pemberton's Yuki Tsubota was involved in the women's slopestyle held at Breckenridge and placed fifth. Snowy conditions at the venue forced the cancellation of finals, so qualification scores were used to determine the final results. Tsubota will also be headed to Park City for back-to-back events this weekend.

HUGE MEDAL HAUL FOR MOGULS TEAM

Canada's dominance in moguls competition continued this past week as Alex Bilodeau and Mikael Kingsbury took turns atop the men's podium during two events at Deer Valley, Utah.

Kingsbury led a Canadian podium sweep on Thursday, Jan. 9 as Bilodeau took silver and Marc-Antoine Gagnon finished third. Whistler's Eddie Hicks qualified for the final and finished 13th.

When action resumed on Saturday, Jan. 11, Olympic champ Bilodeau skied to his first victory of the year, edging Kingsbury for the title. Hicks placed 26th.

Each of the Dufour-Lapointe sisters took home a medal from women's competition in Deer Valley as well. U.S. skier Hannah Kearney won on Friday and was flanked on the podium by Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe, who placed second and third, respectively. On Saturday, the eldest of the skiing sisters, Maxime Dufour-Lapointe, finished third for the first podium finish of her World Cup career while Kearney took top spot once again.

The World Cup schedule resumed after press time on Wednesday, Jan. 15 at Val St. Come, Que., while another is planned for Jan. 19 at Lake Placid.

CROSS-COUNTRY TEAM NAMED

Eleven athletes were named to Canada's Olympic cross-country ski team on Tuesday, Jan. 14, including six that have captured medals at the World Cup level within the current quadrennial.

Alex Harvey, Devon Kershaw, Ivan Babikov, Graeme Killick, Jesse Cockney and Lenny Valjas will make up the men's squad, while the women's team in Sochi will feature Chandra Crawford, Daria Gaiazova, Heidi Widmer, Emily Nishikawa and Perianne Jones.

Seven of the veteran team members were able to qualify their way to the Games via World Cup results while the remaining four — Killick, Cockney, Nishikawa and Widmer — earned their spots in Sochi during the Cross-Country Canada Olympic Trials held last week in Canmore, Alta.

"Depth is critical towards mounting an attack on the podium in any sport, and we have seen through the development of our elite program that our women are hungry to win another medal at the Games, while us guys are now racing to win the country's first-ever Olympic medal," said Kershaw, who has been a world championship gold medallist in the past.

Crawford, who won gold at the 2006 Games in Torino, is the lone Olympic medallist on the squad. Canada was shut out of the medals at Whistler Olympic Park in 2010, but the team has been earning some strong results so far this season, including a one-two finish from Harvey and Kershaw at the prologue of this year's Tour de Ski in Germany.

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