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Ricker readies for chance to repeat Olympic gold

World champion Sea to Sky rider opens snowboard cross season in Austria

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Compared to some other Canadian medallists from the 2010 Olympics who are focused on returning to the podium, Maëlle Ricker is doing it without a lot of fanfare.

You might have spotted the Sea to Sky snowboarder on your TV recently, starring alongside fellow gold medallists Jon Montgomery and Meaghan Mikkelson in a SportChek commercial. But generally, the snowboard cross veteran hasn't parlayed her victory from the 2010 Games — the first Olympic medal won on home soil by a Canadian woman — into fame or celebrity the same way others have.

Montgomery has become a recognizable figure in Canadian pop culture, most recently through hosting a reality TV game show. Bobsleigh champ Kaillie Humphries has been featured in magazine beauty spreads, as another example. Even retired medallists from 2010, like Ashleigh McIvor and Clara Hughes, have remained in the spotlight despite their days of competition coming to an end.

Ricker, who will go to the Olympics for a fourth time this winter — her first appearance was at the Nagano Games in 1998 in halfpipe — is fine with having a little less attention on her compared to some other Canadian medal hopefuls, even though she'll arrive in Sochi as the defending world and Olympic champ.

"I never went snowboarding to gain fame," the 35-year-old told Pique in an email from Austria, where she'll begin her World Cup season this weekend.

"I love working really closely on perfecting a movement on my board and I spend most of my time and energy working in that direction."

The Olympic year kicks off with a race at Montafon, Austria, on Saturday, Dec. 7 and a team event the following day.

Even as she's entered her mid-30s in a sport that's contested mostly by teens and twenty-somethings, Ricker has remained near the top. With all of the titles she has collected over the years — Crystal Globes, Winter X Games gold medals and her first world championship in 2013 among them — there's virtually nothing left for her to prove in the sport. But Ricker has an opportunity to become the first female rider to win multiple Olympic snowboard cross medals and is placing high expectations on herself this winter.

"I feel a different pressure this year to repeat a good result compared to 2010, when I felt the pressure to perform at home," she said. "It's a new Games and a clean slate."

One of her biggest challengers, be it week-to-week on the World Cup tour or in Sochi this February, will be teammate Dominique Maltais. Both have continued to be the riders to beat, as evidenced by their one-two finish at the 2013 world championships, and by Maltais winning her third consecutive World Cup title last winter.

Ricker said the relationship between her and Maltais, a bronze medallist at Turin in 2006, has helped both of them achieve success together.

"I respect how hard Dominique has trained and pushed every aspect of performance in order to succeed in Sochi," said Ricker. "It has helped me to keep progressing myself.

"Our team is a big family travelling together all over the world and we all get along so well together. It's one of the big reasons that makes it so easy to keep going year after year."

Whistler resident Carle Brenneman and Northwest Territories native Michelle Brodeur make up the rest of the Canadian women's team, while Squamish's Rob Fagan, North Vancouver's Chris Robanske, Vernon's Jake Holden and Ontario's Kevin Hill round out the men's roster.

Ricker will enter the season pre-qualified to the Games thanks to her world championship win last year. While some athletes who have already earned their place at the Olympics are expressing relief over getting it out of the way, Ricker said having her qualification complete shouldn't impact her approach to the season one way or another.

"No matter what, I have to keep pushing technically if I want to be competitive in the start gate in Sochi."

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