It should have been snowboarding’s finest hour – the first World Cup snowboard cross event that will count as a qualifier for the 2006 Winter Olympics, and the first time the event will be featured in the Games. The Canadians were also riding well, winning medals and finishing in the top-10 against some of the strongest fields ever in a World Cup start.
It should have been, but wasn’t. A tragic crash that injured and later claimed the life of one of snowboarding’s brightest European stars cast a shadow over the event last week in Valle Nevado, Chile.
Norway’s Line Oestvold, one of the top riders in snowboard cross, fell hard in a technical section during training on Sept. 14, injuring her head and neck. She was flown to a hospital in Santiago, Chile but never regained consciousness. She died on Sunday, Sept. 19, prompting World Cup organizers to cancel the halfpipe events scheduled for that day.
Oestvold won the world snowboard cross title in 2001, as well as the X-Games title, then retired at the end of the season. She made a comeback last year, finished first and second in two World Cup appearances, and had set her sights on the 2006 Winter Olympics. She was 26 years old.
The International Ski Federation, or FIS, is investigating the accident to determine whether there was anything that could have been done to make the course safer. According to reports, she fell on a set of double jumps, which are a standard snowboard cross feature.
With Oestvold in the hospital, the competition went on for the other snowboard cross athletes.
Drew Neilson came one step closer to representing Canada in the snowboard cross at the 2006 Winter Olympics with a gold medal performance on the first day of racing last weekend, and a fourth place finish on day two.
Valle Nevado has been good to Neilson, who won gold there in 2002 and a bronze in 2001.
On the first day he edged out World Cup champion Xavier Delerue of France, Simone Malusa of Italy and Mateusz Ligocki of Poland. Four other Canadians finished in the top 15 – Tom Velisek of Vernon was fifth, Robert Fagan of Cranbrook was sixth, Francois Boivin of Jonquiere, Quebec was 10 th and Jasey Jay Anderson of Tremblant, Quebec was 12 th .
On the second day Neilson again made it to the finals, where he finished fourth behind Graham Watanabe of the U.S., Ligocki, and Mario Fuchs of Austria. Velisek finished fifth, Fagan ninth, and Derek Wintermans of Port Coquitlam was 14 th .
In the women’s event, Whistler’s Maelle Ricker was ninth overall, and Dominique Maltais was 14 th . The win went to Zoe Gillings of Greath Britain, followed by Kathrin Kellenberger of Switzerland, Manuela Riegler of Austria and Lindsay Jacobellis of the U.S.
Jacobellis won the second day, followed by Gillings, Doresia Krings of Austria, and Riegler. Dominique Maltais was fifth and Dominique Vallee of Whistler, who was 22 nd on the first day, was 14 th .
Whistler’s Cori Olafson also raced on the first day, finishing 28 th .
The World Cup snowboarding season continues it Soelden, Austria with a parallel giant slalom Oct. 16-17.