After seeing training days and the qualifier cut short and cancelled due to the weather, the Canadian Ski Cross Team woke up on Tuesday morning to colder weather, harder snow and better visibility than they've had since arriving at the Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia. They made the most of the situation, and what competitors called the biggest course of the year, to net three podiums and another top five finish.
Kelsey Serwa won the women's event, while Whistler's Marielle Thompson, who has struggled this season, pulled up in second place. In the men's event, Chris DelBosco returned from a pre-season shoulder injury and surgery to place second in his first event back on the World Cup circuit. Tristan Tafel made a mistake in the semi-finals, but went on to win the consolation final and place fifth overall.
While the team has dominated in past years this season has been challenging with the retirement of two top female athletes — Olympic champion Ashleigh McIvor and Julia Murray — due to past injuries, the death of teammate Nik Zoricic in one of the final events last season, the retirement of veteran Davey Barr, and a run of injuries. Injuries sidelined world champion Kelsey Serwa for most of last season and put DelBosco on the sidelines for the first three months of this season, while affecting other athletes to a lesser degree. As a result, Sochi represents the team's best performance so far in 2012-2013, and athletes are keen to keep that momentum going.
"It's been a bit of a struggle this year to be at the level we've been the last few years, but today we've got three podiums and hopefully that will spark something for the end of the season," said head coach Eric Archer in a post-race press conference.
Kelsey Serwa led the way in every heat, starting with the technical start where a small mistake could sap your speed and leave you with a huge gap to overcome after only the first few seconds of a race. The only time Serwa was challenged was in the final when Switzerland's Fanny Smith attempted an inside pass, lost control and bumped into Serwa. Serwa recovered to take the win, while Whistler's Marielle Thompson was able to pass Smith and earn her first podium of the season.
It was Serwa's second win of the season, although she admitted that she was still skiing tentatively because of her knee injury last season. "I wasn't too confident having to send it big off the features, but I felt if I was in front I could control the race, more or less," she said. "It's still a work in progress and my confidence is definitely building, but I still have a little ways to go until I can go out and say to myself I know I can win this rather than I hope I can win."