Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor will not be defending her ski cross title at the 2014 Winter Olympics as expected, the 29-year-old announced on Friday. She called it the most difficult decision she's ever had to make.
"It means the world to me to have had success in the Olympic debut of our sport, at home. I couldn't have dreamed it up better myself. I've gone back and forth in my mind, wondering if I'm making the right decision to retire. But I've already done more in the sport than I ever imagined would be possible. And there's something to be said for going out on top, as the reigning Olympic champion."
She has not skied competitively since her latest knee injury, which she sustained at X Games in early 2011 (the same event that later cost the team Julia Murray, who also injured her knee, but continued to compete on a torn ligament for over a month before she realized how serious it was).
The Olympic champion did not provide one specific reason for her decision, but said the knee injury, an Anterior Cruciate tear that required surgery, was a factor.
"My knee is still on the mend and I would be trying to push it to get results this season and put myself in a position to perform at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia," she said. "I've decided that it's more important for me to be able to ski recreationally -- now and for the rest of my life. I have career opportunities that are time sensitive and a great life outside of racing."
McIvor has won everything there is to win in her sport, culminating with the Olympic title in 2010. She has a title at the world championships and X Games, and 11 World Cup medals. She's been inducted into the BC Sport Hall of Fame.
Having achieved everything there is to achieve in ski cross, she told reporters at a press conference that she thought it was time to pursue other opportunities that have come up.
"The timing works, as far as making the transition to the next phase of my career —- making the most of the opportunities that have presented themselves based on the success I've had as a ski cross athlete," she said.
"I will always be a skier, I'm just shifting my focus from racing to freeskiing again. I look forward to continuing to represent my partners and sponsors in the media, working with photographers and enjoying skiing in its purest form without the pressure of competition. I will continue to cheer for my teammates. I have always been their biggest fan -- even when racing against them."
That said, McIvor is confident that the team will continue to win without her. "I do my absolute best to share what it is that has made me successful with my teammates," she said. "I think a lot of it is transferable, and we work well together as a team. That's why we are the number one team in the world. I have every confidence that Canada will bring another ski cross medal home from Russia in 2010."
With McIvor and Murray out, the death of Nik Zoricic in competition last season, Davey Barr retiring and Stan Rey switching to big mountain, the ranks of veteran team members has shrunk considerably in recent years. As well, rookie Georgia Simmerling was injured last season before she even had an opportunity to race at the highest level.
However, despite the loss of athletes the team continues to be strong with world champion and 2011 X Games champion Kelsey Serwa returning, Danielle Sundquist (formerly Poleschuk) off the injury list, and Whistler's Marielle Thompson - who won the overall World Cup title in 2012 on only her second season on the tour - stepping up in a huge way. The men's team includes four athletes with podiums to their credit - Chris Del Bosco, Dave Duncan, Brady Leman and Tristan Tafel - and has a strong group of prospects including former alpine skier Louis-Pierre Helie and Whistler's Robert Lepine.
Coach Willy Raine respected McIvor's decision: "She's won the Olympics, she's won a world championship and she's won a World Cup. She's been a leader -- she's been there since Day One. To be part of the team and watch her win in Vancouver was incredible. I'm definitely going to miss her being part of the team. The sky's the limit for her."
The World Cup skicross season gets underway at Nakiska, Alberta on Dec. 7-8, before heading down to the Telluride, Colorado. There are two more races in Europe before Christmas, and then three more races in Europe before the tour heads to Sochi, Russia for the official Olympic test event. The four following events are all in Europe.
As well, the world championship in Norway from Mar. 5-10 is a big deal for Canadian skiers this year as an opportunity to lock up spots in the 2014 Olympics, and to qualify for full Sport Canada funding. X Games also continues to be a big draw for top athletes, taking place from Jan. 24-27 in Aspen, Colorado, and most athletes will make the trip back from Europe to take part.