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World Cup: McIvor is the ski cross world champion

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Two Whistler skiers were on the podium in the first ski cross world championship event since the sport was officially added to the Olympic roster, with Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor placing first among women at Inawashiro, Japan, and Davey Barr third on the men's side.

McIvor got off to a tough start, ranking 28th in the qualifier after clipping her ski on a gate and being forced to hike back uphill to finish the run. That left her with the worst start position in her first heat, but she eventually worked her way back to the front of the pack and qualified for the finals against Karin Huttary of Austria, Meryl Boulangeat of France and Sasa Faric of Slovenia who placed second, third and fourth respectively.

"I don't know how I did this," said McIvor. "Even to qualify I had to hike two minutes back up the mountain because I'd hooked a gate and wouldn't have qualified if I hadn't.

"It hasn't really hit me. All I want to do is jump up and down."

McIvor's teammate Kelsey Serwa got bumped out of contention in the semifinals, but made up for it by winning the small final to place fifth. Whistler's Julia Murray was 10th, and Danielle Poleschuk 14th to give Canada four racers in the top-15.

On the men's side, Davey Barr placed third in the final, one spot ahead of teammate Chris DelBosco. Andreas Matt and Thomas Zangerl of Austria were first and second. Brady Leman was 14th, wrapping up the top-15.

"I've got to break the bronze curse," said Barr. "I wish I'd brought my semi-final start to the finals."

Events continue through the week at Inawashiro, wrapping up on Sunday.


Ricker wins gold, two medals in PGS
Whistler's Maƫlle Ricker snapped out of a long string of fourth place snowboardcross finishes two weeks ago to earn a bronze medal, then followed up this past weekend with her first gold medal of the season at Sunday River, Maine.

Ricker is the defending World Cup champion, and after two podium appearances she is ranked second behind Lindsey Jacobellis of the U.S. It will be a challenge to win a second consecutive crystal globe, but it's still a possibility with two events remaining.

"It definitely feels good to finally get that win," said Ricker. "At the start I just pushed myself and said to myself '...it's go time.' I had a really nice start and was able to keep a very nice line on the course and fend off my competitors and it worked out nicely for me."

En route to gold, Ricker bumped off world champion Helen Olaffsson of Norway, Mellie Francon of Switzerland and regular rival and World Cup leader Jacobellis.

"It was a really nice course with a little bit of everything," said Ricker. "The weather that we had made it really challenging for everyone. The rain we got yesterday just froze completely overnight, which made the course really icy. The course workers did a great job this morning, but it was nasty out there."

Dominique Maltais was ninth for Canada.

On the men's side, Robert Fagan of Cranbrook was the top Canadian, in fourth place, behind Graham Watanabe of the U.S., Lukas Grueners of Austria, and U.S. rider Ross Powers.

Drew Neilson was sixth for Canada, his best result after coming off the injured list a few weeks ago. Tom Velisek of Squamish also returned from a knee injury, placing 19th.

There was also a parallel giant slalom event. Canada's Jaysey Jay Anderson placed third, defeating Roland Fischnaller of Italy in the small final, while Karl Benjamin outraced Siegfried Grabner for the win. Matthew Morison was 13th while racing with a broken hand.

"It was a bit icy at the end of the course, but overall the equipment held on all day and everything unfolded quite nicely," said Anderson. "It was my mistake that cost me. I was too aggressive, I was trying to revenge last week's dual against Benjamin Karl but that obviously didn't work."

Meanwhile Alexa Loo placed third in the women's event, edging out Claudia Righler of Austria in the small final to earn her second podium of the season and of her career.

"Race conditions were awesome," she said. "The snow was great, the organization was awesome and we had better training. I tried to do the same run every run in the ladder. For me the goal was (to) drop the hammer and ride."

With Ricker's snowboardcross medal, the snowboard team has now earned 15 medals this season.


Alpine slump continues
Although athletes came up with two medals at the world championships, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team's slump on the World Cup circuit is entering its third month, with less than a month remaining in the season to turn things around.

At Bansko, Bulgaria, the women's team competed in two downhill races and a super G.

In the first race Kelly VanderBeek was the only Canadian to crack the top-30, finishing in 23rd place. Britt Janyk, Emily Brydon and Larisa Yurkiw were among the nine skiers who went off course.

The following day Britt Janyk and Emily Brydon were 21st and 22nd respectively, with Larisa Yurkiw 30th.

Emily Brydon moved up to 14th in the super G, with Britt Janyk 29th.

The men's team had better luck at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. Whistler's Mike Janyk and Brad Spence were 12th and 13th respectively in the slalom, while Jean-Philippe Roy had a season-best seventh place result in the giant slalom. For Roy, the finish was enough to move up to 24th in the giant slalom standings and ensure himself a spot in the World Cup finals.


Relay XC team top five in the world
While Canada has had strong individual cross-country skiers in the past, the men's national team has never been as strong as a whole as it is currently. Four athletes have won World Cup medals this year - Devon Kershaw, Ivan Babikov, Alex Harvey and George Grey - making Canadian cross-country history.

With four athletes competing at this level, it also bodes well for Canada's chances in the 4x10km relay, one of the premier events in the sport, when they compete at home in 2010.

At the World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic on Friday the team placed fifth against the top teams in the world - the first time a Canadian team has ever cracked the top-10 in the event.

Defending champions Norway took the win, followed by Germany, Finland and Italy. Canada's relay team was just eight seconds back of Italy and 33 seconds back of Norway after 40 km, which is just 0.8 seconds per kilometre.

"That was by far the best result we've ever had," said Kershaw. "It takes four guys to ski well and we knew we could be competitive. Personally I have had a hard World Championships and it just feels so great to crank it open."

Canada's results in the World Championships were solid if unspectacular.

In the women's 10 km classic, Sara Renner placed ninth, less than 17 seconds off the winning pace. In the men's 15 km classic the top Canadian was George Grey in 21st place.

In the women's 15 km pursuit, Sara Renner was the top Canadian once again in 21st place. In the men's 30 km pursuit, Alex Harvey was the top racer in 22nd place.

In the women's 1.3 km freestyle sprint the only Canadian to crack the top-30 was Daria Gaiazova, who was 29th. Alex Harvey was the top racer in the men's 1.6 km freestyle sprint, finishing 28th.

In the women's team classic sprint Sara Renner and Perianne Jones placed sixth, within sight of the podium at the end of the race. On the men's side Devon Kershaw and George Grey were ninth.

After the relay events, the final races were the women's 30 km freestyle and men's 50 km freestyle. Ivan Babikov was the top Canadian on the men's side, in 16th place, while no Canadian women were in the top-30.


Vancouver's Josh Dueck adds world championship title

The Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team continued its medal run in Korea this week, this time with Vancouver's Josh Dueck winning the men's sitting downhill. It was the first downhill championship title for a Canadian in nine years, after Daniel Wesley topped the field in 2000.

It was also Dueck's best result to date in any race.

"I love to ski and have made many sacrifices to be here... the fruition of this dream is oh so sweet," said Dueck. "The best part of today is that I was not alone - the team came alive with excitement and I know that back home my friends were cheering loud for me. A friend once told me that when I go fast it's not the wind that I hear, but all my friends at home cheering for me."

Kimberly Joines won the women's sitting downhill race, while Lauren Woolstencroft picked up her fourth gold medal of the championships in the women's standing category. Also in women's standing, Karolina Wisniewska was fourth, Whistler's Arly Fogarty sixth and Andrea Dziewior ninth.

In men's standing Morgan Perrin of Vancouver was 11th, while Whistler's Matt Hallat was 21st.

In the visually impaired group Viviane Forest and guide Lindsay Debou were second, while Chris Williamson and guide Nick Brush were third on the men's side.

In total the team won 16 medals at the world championships, more than any other country. Austria was second with 12 medals.

"I am very proud of our athletes because it proves that they can perform on demand when the pressure is on," said head coach Jean-Sebastien Labrie.


Skeleton athletes close to podium

Two Canadians came within hundredths of seconds of podiums at the skeleton world championships at Lake Placid, New York. On the women's side Mellisa Hollingsworth was sixth, while Jon Montgomery was fourth by 0.04 seconds. Jeff Pain was eighth on the men's side.

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