The Canadian Ski Cross Team took another step towards re-establishing itself as the top team in the world on Dec. 23 with a double podium at Innichen/San Candido, Italy. Reigning world champion Kelsey Serwa, returning from a knee injury that sidelined her for most of last season, placed first overall - her first World Cup medal since she won at Innichen in December 2011.
"I was talking to (team ski tech) Rod Honey and I told him, 'I'm sick of losing. I'm going to win today,'" said Serwa. "I'm hungry for it now. Before, I didn't put that expectation on myself. Now, I'm ready to race."
Her win was as spectacular as they come, with Serwa getting off to a slow start and then working her way back up to first with a daring move in a section of rollers. She managed to hold onto the lead as Katrin Mueller of Switzerland and Ophelie David of France crossed skis and went down, opening the window for North Vancouver's Georgia Simmerling. Technically, she placed third behind David but David was later disqualified for the events leading up to the crash and Simmerling moved up one spot on the podium.
"The cool thing about this sport is that you can have so many different scenarios and end up with the same result," she said. "Last year I skied by myself and here today I had to pass three people to take gold. This almost feels better because I had to work for it."
Simmerling's result was even bigger news in a way. After switching from alpine in 2011, she got into a handful of races as a rookie before she crashed and broke her neck and injured her back. She started this season tentatively, but took advantage of her speed in Italy to put herself in medal contention.
"I'm a little surprised but I'm super excited," she said. "A lot of stuff happened in front of me (on the race course) and I kind of worked my way around it.
"I'm excited for the rest of the season. Today taught me to ski smart."
Whistler's Marielle Thompson, the reigning overall World Cup champion, is still looking for her first podium of the season. She qualified with no problems, but went out in the first round of racing to place 11th overall. It was her bad luck to be stacked up against Mueller and Fanny Smith of Switzerland, two of the top racers in the world this year.
After placing second two races in a row, Calgary's Brady Leman had a tough day and found himself behind in every race. He managed to come from behind in the Round of 32 and Round of 16 to move into the semi-finals he skied off course and was relegated to the small final race, which he won to place fifth overall on the day.
"It was a tough race today," he said. "I made a lot of good passes and was racing really hard to be in the finals again," he said. "In the semis I was in second place when another racer made a very aggressive inside pass over a negative turn. He clipped my tips and it spun me out, causing me to crash and miss out on the finals."
Some incidental contact is allowed in the sport and the incident was not reviewed.
"I've been happy with my skiing so far this year," said Leman, who is sitting second in the overall standings. "Four races and all top six finishes is a very strong start to the year. I'm excited now to go home for some much needed rest and some training to get ready to fight for wins in the New Year."
Louis-Pierre Helie, a rookie with the team, posted his best result of the season in eighth place. Whistler's David Duncan was 10th, Mathieu Leduc was 21st and Tristan Tafel 25th.
Alex Fiva of the now dominant Swiss team took the gold medal, followed by Daniel Bohnacker of Germany and Victor Oehling Norberg of Sweden. Veteran Tomas Kraus also made the final to rank fourth.
The next race is at Les Contamines, France from Jan. 11-12.