For a brief moment, it looked as though the Crystal Globe might slip through Marielle Thompson's fingers.
After Thompson led the women's World Cup ski cross standings nearly all season, Fanny Smith had closed the gap down to just five points — small enough to make the final race on Sunday, March 23, a winner-take-all showdown at La Plagne, France.
And after both skiers made it through to Sunday's final, it was Smith who grabbed the lead out of the start, and looked poised to win her second season title in a row.
That was until Thompson found an inside line on one of the course's final turns — a sweeping, left-hander that the Whistler skier executed perfectly — leaving Smith in her dust, and ripping the Globe out of the Swiss star's grasp.
It was a thrilling — and fitting — finish to the World Cup campaign, with Olympic champ Thompson winning the race and her second overall title in three years, while Smith settled for second in the standings, and a runner-up result in the race.
"In the final, I knew that everything came down to that last run down the course, so it was pretty intense, especially being behind out of the gate and having to make that pass," said Thompson.
"I just needed to be patient and either wait for her to either make a mistake, or for me to ski one element a bit better than her. I waited for that moment and it just happened to be the near the end. I nailed that big super-G turn and she didn't do it quite as well as me."
Thompson was on Smith's heels the whole way down until making the perfect pass with the finish line in sight. The race jury reviewed the final, but the result was upheld, as it did not appear Thompson ever made contact with Smith.
Afterwards, the second-place finisher was obviously bitter.
"I'm a bit sad about the jury decision, because Marielle was a bit unfair. But, whatever — she already broke my knee two years ago and I know how she skis," said Smith, referring to when the two skiers collided at a December 2011 World Cup, which resulted in a season-ending injury for Smith.
Thompson shared the podium with a teammate on Sunday, as Georgia Simmerling placed third to end her season with back-to-back top-three finishes, and a sixth-place ranking in the standings. Danielle Sundquist finished 21st.
In 2012, Thompson won Canada's first-ever individual ski cross Crystal Globe. Now, she has the country's second, and this one carries a little more significance for the 21-year-old.
"This one feels really great, especially since the last one, people always kind of put that little asterisk beside it, saying, 'Everyone was injured, and Marielle was the only one left standing,'" she said. "I'm glad that I could prove to myself as well as others that I can be the best and it wasn't a fluke."
But Thompson had already proved long before Sunday that her 2012 title was no fluke. Her win at La Plagne capped off a season that never saw her finish outside the top five in a single race, and one where she left Sochi with Olympic gold.
"The main goal for me (this season) was the Olympics, and once I realized my Olympic goals, I kind of had to refocus, think about the Globe and make sure my skiing was where it needed to be to stay competitive," she said.
"I'm just really happy I could realize all my goals and not really disappoint myself."
That streak of top-five finishes now spans 17 races over 13 months, including her Winter Games triumph, a silver at the world championships and a gold at the junior world championships. She's also the only athlete, male or female, to win a FIS Freestyle Crystal Globe and Olympic gold this season.
"She had good focus all season, she was determined, and today was a really good example," said Canadian head coach Eric Archer. "She didn't give up when she lost the lead and knew what she had to do to get it back. It was a great year."
Just four years into her World Cup career, Thompson has built up one of the most impressive resumés in the sport. But she joked that she'll have to get on French legend Ophelie David's level before getting complacent.
"She has seven Globes, so maybe I can try catching up to her," laughed Thompson.
The Whistler Mountain Ski Club product was awarded her first Crystal Globe on the same day teammate Nik Zoricic was tragically killed in a finish-line crash in 2012, making it impossible for the Canadian crew to take much joy in her season title at the time. But this Globe was one she was happy to be able to celebrate with teammates, and she hopes the party can continue when she returns home to Whistler this week for the first time since the Olympics.
"I'm really glad to have a little bit of down time and be able to celebrate with everyone," she said.
INJURIES TAKE TOLL ON CANADIAN MEN
The Canadian men's team endured a beating from injuries after the Olympics, and even Brady Leman wasn't at full health when he wrapped up his season with a podium finish.
Leman finished third to lead the Canadian men — or the ones that were left, at least — at La Plagne.
"I think even though we just missed out on the Nations Cup this year, if you take the injuries out of the picture, it would have been a blowout, I think, for our team," said Leman, as Switzerland wound up edging Canada for the Cup title.
Whistler's Dave Duncan, who was leading the men's chase for the Crystal Globe before being injured, was still banged up and did not start on Sunday, nor did Chris Del Bosco, who sat out with a heel injury. Then, Mathieu Leduc went down with a serious knee injury during the first round of heats at La Plagne.
Tristan Tafel finished seventh on Sunday, while Louis-Pierre Hélie placed 12th. Olympic champ Jean-Frederic Chapuis won the race, and Sweden's Victor Oehling Norberg claimed the season title.
Despite missing the final three races of the year, Duncan ended the campaign as the top Canadian, ranking sixth to match his previous best from 2012.
"I wish that Dunc could have finished out the year with us, because he would have been contending for a Globe, for sure," said Leman. "He had an awesome year. Del was strong like always, I had a good year and our young guys — Louis, Mat and Tristan — they all kind of stepped up with at least one result. And Mar (Thompson) just killed it all year."
Leman, who finished fourth in Sochi and in two other World Cups this year, said he was glad to end the winter on a podium.
"I was pumped to not be fourth again," said the Calgary skier, who finished the season eighth in the men's standings. "I think I made more finals than any other guy this year, it's just that they didn't really go my way and I didn't have my best skiing when I made it to the medal rounds.
But I know I'm there, (and I was) super competitive every week this year."
Though Canada fell just short of the ski cross Nations Cup, it did capture the FIS Freestyle overall trophy, which is based on points accumulated across all five disciplines. The ski cross and moguls teams contributed the majority, and Canada ended the season with a healthy lead over the runner-up Americans.