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Smooth as a Mercedes…Nicoll

One of Canada’s young guns explains that it’s not enough to just be good

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The word Mercedes is often associated with action movies and rich people but if one pint-sized snowboarder has anything to do with it Mercedes, at least in Whistler, will also soon be associated with halfpipe snowboarding.

Mercedes Nicoll is two years out of a Vancouver high school and on Jan. 22 nd she will be matching her skills against the best halfpipe riders in the world.

At just 21 Nicoll, who now lives in Whistler, has had several top five finishes including seventh in the 2003 Winter X-Games finals and a third in the 2004 Mammoth Grand Prix.

But it was the X-Games result that made Nicoll sit back and think.

"I was really excited about the X-Games last season and I made the finals, which was really big for me," said Nicoll. "I didn’t even think I was going to get invited.

"But after that I was kind of like wow, I can really compete with these Americans and everyone from around the world."

While men’s snowboarding has been consistently strong, the standard of competition among the women, or more correctly the teenage girls, has taken a quantum leap forward in the past five years. At the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival in Whistler last season 18-year-old American Hannah Teter was going further out of the halfpipe than many of the men.

And when there was an open call for athletes for the super hit contest Teter didn’t flinch, she went straight to the top of the pipe with the rest of the men and made an impression.

Teter and others, such as 15-year-old U.S. sensation Elena Hight and her teammate 19-year-old Lindsey Jacobellis, have been setting the tone in recent competitions.

But only a fool would discount the slightly older guard, which includes riders such as 2002 Olympic gold medallist Kelly Clark and Norway’s Kjersti Oestgaard Buaas, 24, as well as French rider Doriane Vidal and Swizerland’s Fabienne Reuteler, 25.

Nicoll, who used to be a competitive figure skater, conceded it wasn’t enough to have a good swag of tricks nowadays. The focus, according to Nicoll, has to be on constant improvement.

"You have to step it up every year because it’s getting way more technical," she said. "I go down to Mammoth like everybody else in November and you see everyone and you’re like, if they can do it, I can do it."

Nicoll said it was impossible to say who would do well at the FIS Snowboard World Championships.

"Elena Hight was doing 900’s when she was 14 – so there’s lots of people who can do it.

"But in snowboarding it’s about natural ability and guts. You’ve got to have some guts to try some of these tricks."

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