Nakiska the final test before PyeongChang 2018 for ski cross World Cup

18 January 2018 23:28
Jonas Lenherr in Nakiska training
Jonas Lenherr in Nakiska training -
GEPA Pictures

Nakiska (CAN) - The final Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup competition before the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games will take place this weekend at Nakiska (CAN), where a large field will duke it out in Friday’s qualifications for a shot at one of the 16 ladies and 32 men’s spots available for Saturday’s finals, which begin at 11:30 MST.

With nearly 100 skiers on hand in Nakiska it’s clear that PyeongChang 2018 is rapidly approaching, as athletes from far and wide have descended on the small Canadian resort located just over an hour from Calgary looking for one last chance at earning a spot for the Games. With so much on the line for so many athletes and so many storylines of joy and heartbreak to be written, this weekend’s competition promises to be compelling beyond just the action on the hill.

Leading the way for the ladies’ field is Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund, as the 21-year-old comes into competition at Nakiska with a stranglehold on top spot of not just the ski cross World Cup rankings, but also the Freestyle overall leaderboard. 

With five victories and podiums in every competition so far in 2017/18, Naeslund now has 620 points on the season - 267 more than the 353 points held by third-overall Fanny Smith (SUI). While Smith has taken the place of top challenger to Naeslund since second-overall Heidi Zacher (GER) underwent knee surgery following a crash in training last week, with only four races left in the season it's clear that catching Naeslund in the battle for this season’s ski cross crystal globe could be a tall task indeed.

On top of this, as mentioned, Naeslund is currently way out ahead of the FIS Freestyle adjusted overall rankings with 88.57 points, while second overall Jaelin Kauf, a moguls skier from the USA, has just 70 points. Should Naeslund be able to continue at her current pace she will have no problem locking up the first Freestyle overall globe for a ski cross athlete since Ophelie David (FRA) did it in 2009. 

However, Naeslund can expect to face tough challenges from some Canadian athletes at their home soil race, with Georgia Simmerling, Brittany Phelan, Kelsey Serwa, and India Sherret all in the ski cross World Cup top-10, and all scoring at least one podium so far this season. Throw in a pair of French skiers who are looking strong this yeah in Marielle Berger Sabbatel and Alize Baron, and it may not be a cakewalk for Naelsund on Saturday.


Reigning Nakiska champ Chapuis back in top form 

Over on the men’s side the big news heading into competition in Nakiska is the return to the top of the podium for three-time reigning crystal globe winner and reigning Olympic gold medalist Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA), who with his win in Idre Fjall last week has now tied the great Tomas Kraus for the most-ever ski cross World Cup victories for a man. 

By his own standards Chapuis has struggled somewhat this season, with just three podiums in seven events thus far. However, with last week’s win now in his pocket he sits second overall in the men’s tightly-packed ski cross rankings with 309 points, putting him within striking distance of top-ranked Marc Bischofberger (SUI) and his 397 points. Bischofberger’s teammate Alex Fiva currently owns third place overall with 288 points.

Chapuis was the last man to win in Nakiska back at the 2016 World Cup, and coming in with the momentum from the Idre win he may be the one to put your money on again this year. However, one other athlete who jumps out when looking at past Nakiska results is Armin Niederer (SUI), who has one victory at the Canadian resort and podiums in all four races held here in the past. While Niederer has struggled to find his groove so far this year, the course in Nakiska might be just the tonic he needs to get back up to his typical form. 

The Nakiska race could also be just what the host Canadian team’s men need to get up to speed, as since Chris Delbosco won the opening competition of the season in Val Thorens (FRA) and Kevin Drury took second-place at the weather-shortened competition in Arosa (SUI), the normally top-ranked Canadian men have not been able to get back on podium. If one of their squad was able to step up and become the first to claim a victory for the host nation at the Nakiska race it would be a huge boon for team ahead of the Games in Korea.