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Thompson reflects on Olympic Games

Defending Olympic ski-cross champion went down in first heat of finals

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A week and a half after the fact, Marielle Thompson hasn't watched a replay of the fateful first heat at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

In the first heat of the day, the 25-year-old ski-cross racer was first out of the gates in finals on Feb. 23. In mere seconds, however, her dreams of defending her Olympic gold from Sochi in 2014 were dashed. Skiing just behind Sweden's Lisa Andersson early in the event, Thompson's right ski appeared to sneak underneath Andersson's right ski and she went down after being clipped by the Swede's ski.

"It was pretty unavoidable. Sometimes, things just don't quite go your way," she said.

While all 24 racers who lined up in the start gates that day were seeing the tangible results of years of hard work, for Thompson, it was the culmination of a three-and-a-half-month-long frenzy to get healthy after suffering a serious knee injury during training in October. At the time, it looked doubtful that she'd be able to compete.

"It feels like it was a long time coming, even though it was only three-and-a-half months. When I was training to go to Korea, I had a pretty good camp here in Whistler. I spent some time in the terrain park, and I was feeling pretty good with all of that going into Korea. It was a good stepping stone toward getting back on the course," she recalled.

As a three-time FIS Crystal Globe winner, pundits prognosticated that if healthy, Thompson would have a strong chance of defending her gold. Though she posted the fastest time in the seeding race and entered finals as the top qualifier, she stressed that there was more to being ready than regaining her technique and physical strength.

"The first day on the course was definitely intimidating, having not had the experience of racing this season like everybody else. I was kind of behind," she said. "I got the first run over with, made it down safely and it was good to get that under my belt. With that done and out of the way, I was able to watch my video and fix the things that needed to be fixed and get more up to speed moving into the seeding event.

"It was a very quick progression, but it all worked out nicely."

Even when she was named by Alpine Canada to the Olympic team in January, Thompson acknowledged being a wildcard in terms of her readiness to compete. And as it turned out, she didn't give herself the green light until giving her knee a good, strong test on the PyeongChang course.

"I was hopeful that I would be good to go before I left, but I don't think I really made the decision until the day before the seeding run. We had two days of training by then," she said. "It was all just feeling out the course and making sure I was confident with my skiing — mostly, that I felt ready to compete."

Thompson was certainly good to go and wasn't surprised by her top qualifying time after she discovered what she was capable of on the course.

"The day before, I kind of surprised myself. I was pretty fast," she said. "It was a confidence-booster knowing that I was able to ski fast and ski with the top racers again.

"Before I saw the time at the bottom, I thought 'Well, that was a good run.' I hoped that the time matched my feelings. I don't think I could have done it much better. After that day, it was a personal victory. I was thinking 'Well, I can still be the best, even if I am out of it for awhile.' I can really trust myself that way."

Though it doesn't remove the sting of falling short of her own goals, being part of a group that saw fellow Canadians Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan capture gold and silver, respectively, was welcome.

"It's such an individual sport that it's hard when you have such a tough day, but seeing them do so well and feeling on top of the world was really good for our team," she said. "It was very positive to take away. It was nice to have something to celebrate even though my day didn't go as well as I would have liked."

And even if she didn't get the hardware she was hoping for, Thompson can look back and know that lining up in the start gate at all was a feat unto itself.

"I'm happy I went through all the rehab and hard work to get there. Just to get that opportunity is pretty cool," she said.

Though the Olympics didn't signal the end of the ski-cross season, as there are still a handful of World Cups left to go, Thompson decided to shut herself down for the campaign and come back with a vengeance for the 2018-19 season.

"I want to just kind of relax and take it easy because since I crashed in October, I haven't had a minute of any downtime," Thompson said. "I'm hoping to just relax at home, maybe do some skiing. I have no plans.

"It'll be nice to experience Whistler in the spring because I'm always away. When I'm home, I'm tired and I don't really feel like skiing. It'll be nice to have the pressure off and be able to enjoy myself."

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