Although the world has been slow to embrace ski halfpipe and ski cross at the World Cup level since they were approved by Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) back in 2005, last week’s events in Les Contamines Montjoie, France attracted a lot of attention. For one thing, it was the first World Cup ski cross event since the International Olympic Committee approved the sport for the Winter Games in 2010 and a huge field of international athletes turned out to earn points. The other reason was the general popularity of ski halfpipe, and questions why this event hasn’t been included in the Olympics yet.
It was a good weekend for Canadian athletes, with three medals in halfpipe and one in ski cross.
In the ski cross the Canadian team was solid, with two men making it through the first two rounds of racing into the semi-final. Whistler’s Davey Barr faced Stanley Hayer from the interior of B.C. in that round but only Hayer moved on.
Barr had a good start in that race, but clipped a gate hard enough out of the start that he required three stitches on his nose. He missed his chance of making the finals, but won the small final to place fifth overall — his best result in a World Cup competition.
Hayer did advance to the final round, where he had his own problems in the start. He missed the hole shot, but was able to hold on and place third behind Thomas Kraus of the Czech Republic and Casey Puckett of the U.S.
“The start wasn’t made for me, either I’m too big or too weak to get out of the flat starts, but to start on the outside and get into the second spot was pretty good,” said Hayer. “I had a tough race from Puckett for second, we’ve been racing against each other for nine years now, and the two guys who finished up front are very good.”
Also from Canada, Chris Del Boscoe placed 17 th , and Whistler’s Brian Bennett was 21 st .
On the women’s side, Whistler’s Ashleigh McIvor literally battled her way into the finals, sustaining a mild hip injury in the quarter-final, then dislocating her shoulder in the last turn while leading her heat in the semi-finals. After about 20 minutes a doctor managed to pop her arm back in, and after a talk with the coach she planned to race in the final heat, go slow and hope for a crash up front. However, with the delay she missed the start and had to settle for a fourth place finish behind World Champion Ophelie David of France, Hedda Berntsen of Norway, and Meryl Boulangeat of France.
McIvor will not compete in any more events this season, according to her blog.
“We have decided that my best option is to get me home and get my shoulder fixed up,” she wrote. “We all know I’m right in there with the top couple of girls in the world, ability-wise, I just need to get healthy. This way I’ll be able to train hard all summer and go out and charge for a full season before the Olympics.”
Whistler’s Julia Murray also had a good day in her rookie year racing ski cross, but was unlucky to have to face Ophelie David and Meyrll Boulangeat in the same heat. She still managed to finish in ninth place overall.
“It’s always a big deal when on your left is the world number one, and on your right is the world number two, but I learned that I can compete with these women,” she said. “Now that it’s behind me, I know that with each race I gain more confidence with my ability.”
Anik Demers, Canada’s top racer in the world championships last year, had some trouble on the course but still finished 15 th overall.
In the halfpipe event, two Canadian men and one woman made the podium.
On the men’s side, 18-year-old Matthew Hayward from Red Mountain placed first overall, followed by Kevin Rolland of France and 19-year-old Justin Dorey of Silver Star.
“I was really nervous because in the three runs in training I fell down, so to be able to put that run down in competition I was pretty happy,” said Hayward.
The other Canadian in the competition, Mike Riddle, finished his day in 21 st place.
On the women’s side, local skier Sarah Burke posted the top run of the day to take the gold medal, followed by Jennifer Hudak of the U.S. and Swiss skier Mirjam Jaeger. Also from Canada, Rosalind Groenewoud placed fourth.
“It was a good way to start (the season) winning this one,” said Burke, who was also the favourite going into the contest. “It’s a really nice halfpipe and my first two hits were straight airs which were probably my favourite because I could go as big as I could.”
The ski cross team has a second World Cup event in France this weekend before returning to North America for the Winter X-Games in Aspen, Colorado. The halfpipe team is also heading to the X-Games in Colorado.