Naeslund reigns supreme and Eckert earns maiden victory in Nakiska
Nakiska (CAN) - The Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup headed into the Olympic break with a bang on Saturday at Alberta, Canada’s Nakiska ski area, where a tense afternoon of four-aside racing saw dominant Swede Sandra Naeslund nail down her sixth win and eighth straight podium of the season in ladies’ competition, and Paul Eckert (GER) score the first victory of his career on the men’s side of things.
Naeslund has been dominant this season in a way that harkens back to the heyday of France’s Ophelie David, who won seven ski cross crystal globes in a row from 2003/04 to 2009/10, and was the last ski cross athlete to win the Freestyle overall globe, in 2008/09.
In fact, with her sixth win and her eighth straight podium of the 2017/18 campaign on Saturday in Nakiska, Naeslund was able to lock down what will be the first crystal globe of her young career with three World Cup competitions left to go in the season. With 720 points, she could sit out all three of the season’s final races and still not be caught by current third overall Fanny Smith and her 389 points, while second overall skier Heidi Zacher (GER) is finished for the season due to injury.
On top of this, the ultra-composed 21-year-old Naeslund is almost certainly on her way to following in the great David’s footsteps and claiming this season’s Freestyle overall globe, as she now holds 90 points on the adjusted overall scoreboard, while Jaelin Kauf of the US moguls team holds but 62.29 points after a disappointing showing on Saturday in Tremblant (CAN).
Should she succeed along this path, she’ll put her name, and this season, amongst the best of all time.
Naeslund won in Nakiska by besting the French pair of Marielle Berger Sabbatel and Alizee Baron, who finished second and third respectively, as well as top Canadian hopeful Kelsey Serwa, who pressured Naeslund through much of the top half of the race but ended up been forced to settle for fourth after losing a ski and crashing halfway through the big final.
Following the competition in Nakiska, Naeslund was typically understated about her accomplishments.
“It’s a fun course here in Nakiska. It’s technical like Idre (SWE) but in different ways. A funny fun course and really tough. It was tight heats todays, but I had good starts which is really comfortable to have. And then it was just skiing my best all the way down.
“It’s nice to know I’ve got the crystal globe locked down already. It's is pretty cool. Winning the globe has always been a big goal for me, but I maybe didn’t expect it this season because this season the Olympics are the big goal. I’m really just happy to be having this great season and I’m looking forward to the Olympics.
Eckert takes maiden victory in crash-effected final
Over on the men’s side it was Paul Eckert of Germany making a little history of his own, taking a deserved, if surprisingly easy, first victory of his World Cup career.
In the big final Eckert was lined up alongside the dangerous Christoph Wahrstoetter (AUT), ski cross World Cup leader Marc Bischofberg (SUI), and Kevin Drury (CAN), perhaps the most impressive man of the day on the Nakiska course up until the final heat.
Out of the gate Eckert was able to pull into the hole shot and hold on to that lead through the upper third of the course. Meanwhile, behind him, Drury was methodically picking his way from fourth up towards an attempt at first place, as he had done in nearly every heat throughout the day.
However, in the big final Drury’s attempt went awry, and he ended up becoming unbalanced and crashing into the netting. While he would not take anyone else down with him, Drury would force Bischofberger and Warhstoetter to slam on the breaks, leaving Eckert to ski the rest of the course essentially on his own, crossing the line with miles of space between himself and second-place Warhstoetter and third place Bischofberger.
“How does it feel? Actually, I mostly just feel tired,” Eckert said, laughing in the finish area. “No, I’m really happy about my first victory. When I stood in the start I thought to myself about the fact that you don’t often get the chance to be in the big final. Today was my chance and I really, really wanted it and I’m really happy about my victory today. I really liked the course and it’s nice to be able to win on a track like this.”
With his third-place result Bischofberger was able to increase his lead on the ski cross leaderboard, with his 457 points now putting him 128 points up on Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA), who has 329. Third place overall belongs to Alex Fiva who has 303 points so far this season.
With the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games now upon us, the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup is on hiatus until after the Games, when two of the final three competitions of the season will take to Sunny Valley (RUS) for back-to-back competitions on March 3 and 4, 2018.
- Full ladies’ results
- Ladies’ ski cross World Cup leaderboard
- Ladies’ big final highlight video
- Full men’s results
- Men’s ski cross World Cup leaderboard
- Men’s big final highlight video