PyeongChang 2018 OWG preview: Ski Cross
Freestyle Skiing competition at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games will conclude with the ladies ski cross event taking place on February 23, with the seeding run getting out of the start gate at 11:30 and four-at-a-time finals heats beginning at 13:15. Two days before that, on Feb 21, the men’s competition will take to the impressive White Industries-developed course at Phoenix Park resort, with the same 11:30 seeding and 13:15 finals start times.
The ski cross course at the Phoenix Park Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding venue is truly exceptional, starting off with a one-of-a-kind, two meter free-fall drop-in out of the start gate that immediately sends the athletes into an imposing and tricky “wu tang” section before the course’s first major jump feature and the first corner. From there on out it’s a dizzying sequence of step-ups, step-downs, rollers, banks, negative turns, and many varied forms of jumps that will carry the athletes through to the Olympic ski cross course’s finish stadium where three deserving men and ladies will cap off their Games experience with some Olympic hardware.
Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games ski cross results
Gold - Marielle Thompson (CAN)
Silver - Kelsey Serwa (CAN)
Bronze - Anna Holmlund (SWE)
Gold - Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA)
Silver - Arnaud Bovolenta (FRA)
Bronze - Jonathon Midol (FRA)
Untested Thompson returns from injury to defend Olympic title
The biggest story in ski cross at PyeongChang 2018 is the return to competition of Canada’s Marielle Thompson, the reigning ski cross Olympic champion who only four months ago underwent surgery on ACL and MCL tendons ruptured in a crash in October.
With the Sochi 2014 gold medal and three crystal globes to her credit since joining the World Cup in 2010/11, Thompson has many times over proven herself as one of the most dominant forces in ski cross. However, what she is attempting in Korea is something the likes of which few people on earth could even conceive of.
Somehow, with a new knee and only a handful of full runs to her name this season, Thompson managed to tie Sweden's Sandra Naeslund for the fastest time in Tuesday's training. If Thompson is still in the running for a medal come time for the ladies’ big final on Friday it will be remembered as one of the great performances of PyeongChang 2018.
However, even if Thompson was rolling into PyeongChang 2018 after a normal Olympic build-up, she would still find herself in tough against Naeslund, who comes into the Olympic competition riding a streak of 13-straight podiums, dating back to last season.
Naeslund has five wins in 2017/18 alone, already locking down the ski cross crystal globe with three competitions left in the season and putting herself in a position to become the first ski cross racer to take the Freestyle overall globe in nearly a decade. After winning gold at the Sierra Nevada 2017 world championships last March, Naeslund will be looking to put an exclamation mark on what is shaping up to be one of the greatest 12 month stretches in ski cross history with a win in Phoenix Park.
Behind Naeslund on the World Cup rankings, Swtizerland’s Fanny Smith will be looking to finally land on the podium in her third Games after being forced to settle for the small finals at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. Still just 25 years old, Smith is a 10-year veteran of the ski cross World Cup, and with crystal globe and world championships gold medals already to her name, some Olympic hardware would complete her trophy case nicely.
Also to watch out for is the French duo of Marielle Berger Sabbatel and Alizee Baron. Berger Sabbatel currently sits fifth on the World Cup rankings and comes into PyeongChang 2018 with podiums in three of her last four competitions, while Baron has been one of the fastest ladies’ throughout training.
A little further down the list are three of Thompson’s Canadian teammates, as Sochi silver medalist Kelsey Serwa, Brittany Phelan, and India Sherret. While Serwa is the most experienced member of the Canadian squad with two Olympic appearances and nine World Cup campaigns to her credit, both Phelan and Sherret have shown some impressive speed this season and could challenge for podiums on sport’s biggest stage.
Finally, the dark horse competitor in the ladies’ competition could Andrea Limbacher (AUT). The Kreischberg 2015 world champion, Limbacher has slowly been returning to form this season after suffering back-to-back knee injuries. Despite her best result this season being a sixth, Limbacher won the Olympic test event at Phoenix Park in 2016, and will be calling on that experience as she looks to earn the first ladies ski cross medal for the Austrians.
Chapuis in tough to two-peat against powerful men’s field
While Switzerland’s Marc Bischofberger is the clear leader heading into men’s PyeongChang 2018 ski cross competition with podiums in four of his last five races (including two victories) and a 128 point lead on his nearest World Cup competitor, nothing is really clear in a men’s field in which little has followed the script so far in 2017/18. However, along with his teammates Alex Fiva, Jonas Lenherr, and Armin Niederer, Bischofberg leads one of the strongest top to bottom squads on hand.
Three-time reigning crystal globe winner and reigning Olympic gold medalist Jean Frederic Chapuis of France sits in second behind Bischofberger on the World Cup leaderboard, though the Frenchman has yet to really assert himself this season. Still, Chapuis has proven himself a high pressure performer enough times throughout his career that a less-then-dominant World Cup campaign up to this point shouldn’t diminish any confidence in his ability to step-up his game here in Korea.
One of the more intriguing name’s on the start list is Chapuis’ teammate Francois Place, a man who scored world championship bronze last year in Sierra Nevada at the end of his very first season on the ski cross World Cup. With the top time on Tuesday in his final training run, Place could be a tough man to catch if he gets the hole shot on race day. Though a repeat France sweep of the podium seems unlikely, with Chapuis, Place, and their teammate Terence Tchiknavorian all in the top six on the World Cup this season, the scenario isn’t completely out of the question.
Canadian veterans Chris Delbosco and Brady Leman should come into PyeongChang 2018 with the biggest chips on their shoulders of anyone, as both men have Olympic fourth place results to their credits, and both would love to make the world forget those results with podiums on Wednesday. Though Delbosco and Leman both currently sit outside the World Cup top ten, both are capable of greatness when it counts.
Christoph Wahrstoetter and Thomas Zangerl of Austria, Paul Eckert of Germany, Olympic Athlete from Russia Sergey Ridzik, the Swedish duo of Viktor Andersson and his teammate the reigning ski cross world champion Victor Oehling Norberg…the list of serious podium threats is nearly as long as the start list itself. Really, the only thing for sure is that both the ladies’ and men’s PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games ski cross competitions will be must-see viewing this week.
- Full PyeongChang 2018 ski cross programme
- Past Olympic medalists
- PyeongChang 2018 Freestyle Skiing competition webpage
- Ski cross course digital renderings (courtesy White Industries)
- Ski cross course video preview (courtesy White Industries)