By Bob Barnett
BARDONECCHIA, Italy – Olympic observers continued their education in snowboard cross today, and the lesson was especially painful for Canadians Maelle Ricker and Dominique Maltais.
The Canadian riders were number one and two in this morning’s qualifying runs and made the final alongside the third and fourth fastest qualifiers, American Lindsey Jacobellis and Swiss Tanja Frieden respectively.
But in a spectacular finale, three of the four riders crashed in three separate incidents, handing the win to Frieden.
Whistler’s Ricker fell heavily on her back coming off a jump and was taken to hospital with what doctors suspect is a concussion. She was awake and talking after being removed from the hill on a toboggan.
Shortly after Ricker went down Maltais went over a berm and through the netting on her own.
With the two Canadians down, Jacobellis had a 10-15 metre lead on Frieden when she crashed off the second to last jump, within sight of the finish line. The American tried to grab her board while in the air, a move that many interpreted as an act of showmanship. But at a press conference following the race Jacobellis was adamant that the move was intended to stabilize her in the air.
“I had trouble with that jump all day, with the wind, and I was trying different grabs to try and stabilize,” she said. “But I’m happy to have the first Olympic silver medal in snowboard cross.”
Asked if the move was necessary she replied: “Yes, because it helps to stabilize the board in the air.”
And asked again if she’d made any mistakes Jacobellis said: “Yes, I wasn’t able to stabilize myself in the air.”
While some people were dumbfounded with the turn of events in the final bronze medalist Maltais spoke for all the riders when she said: “It’s boardercross, you know. Sometimes crashes happen.”
“All of us have learned it’s never over until the finish,” Frieden said. “There’s a certain amount of luck. But it’s a good sign that the top four were in the final.”
North Vancouver’s Drew Neilson, who was the fastest qualifier in Thursday’s men’s snowboard cross, only to be eliminated by a crash, spoke with Ricker at the bottom of the hill. He said she was awake and talking but wasn’t sure where she was.
“It was pretty ugly but she’s a tough girl. She’s had many bad crashes, ones that I couldn’t believe she got up from. I think she’ll be fine,” Neilson said.
“She destroyed the field in the time trials, much like somebody else we know,” Neilson said. “It’s just unfortunate. The start got a little bit hairy and she was trying to play it safe and wait for her chance to make her move and she just had an unfortunate situation that caused her to go down on her own.”
He said the wet, grabby snow that fell this morning may have played a part.
“It can grab your edge sometimes. She was just a little heel-heavy when she took off and a piece of snow just grabbed it. There might have been a mark there from an earlier race, and it just chucked her board out from underneath her. It’s happened to many people. I’ve done it myself. You’re still turning in the corner and you hit a jump and the board just goes one way and the body goes the other.”
The new snow in the morning made the course slow and tricky during qualifying, with some girls just barely making it over the first couple of rollers. It got considerably faster as more riders went down.
But for the second consecutive day, the sun came out in the afternoon to make for clean, competitive elimination rounds.
Ricker was the dominant rider in qualifying, winning each run by more than a second. She also won both of her elimination rounds by comfortable margins.
Maltais had the second fastest qualifying time, 1.48 seconds behind her teammate. West Vancouver’s Erin Simmons just missed the cut with the 17 th fastest qualifying time. Dominque Vallee of Squamish was 19 th .