Thompson and Bovolenta crowned victorious in Sunny Valley SX
Sunny Valley, FRA - One of the most spectacular Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup competitions in recent memory took place on Saturday at Russia’s Sunny Valley resort, where both Marielle Thompson (CAN) in the ladies’ final and Arnaud Bovolenta (FRA) in the men’s competition claimed photo-finish victories by razor-thin margins.
All weekend athletes and officials had been told about the huge crowds expected to attend Saturday’s competition at the newest venue on the ski cross World Cup circuit, and come time for the first heats to pull out of the gate on the snowy afternoon none were to be disappointed. With spectators lined up from top to bottom of the course and a packed grandstand greeting the athletes in the finish area, the atmosphere in Sunny Valley was electric.
The ladies big final saw Thompson lined up alongside Sandra Naeslund (SWE), Ophelie David (FRA) and Marte Hoeie Gjefsen (NOR), where all four ladies pulled clean starts out of the gate before Thompson slid into the lead with Naeslund on her heels.
While Thompson had made her way to the big final mostly unchallenged, the last heat of the day for the ladies’ would change all that, as Naeslund hounded Thompson through the course’s top half before making a strong outside pass with half the race left to go.
Naeslund maintained the lead through the final through corners and the final straightaway, looking for al the world like she would be able to hold on for her third win of the season.
However, Thompson hung out in Naeslund’s draft through the final stretch before pulling out over the final jump and slingshotting ahead of the Swede at the last second, winning her sixth race of the year by a hand-length.
“I knew I had a fair amount of speed being in Sandra’s draft and I thought maybe I could get her at the line,” a smiling Thompson said, holding the actual 24 carat gold-plated crown that was her winner’s reward, “It turns out I was right. It was a good reach. I was just hoping for the best, pretty much.”
With the win Thompson secured the third ski cross crystal globe of her career.
“It feels good to know I’ve got the globe,” she went on, “That was kind of what today was all about, having a good race and making it official so I can go to (the next event at) Blue Mountain with less stress. So today went perfectly. I’m thrilled.”
The great veteran David took home the third place medal on the day, making a great pass on Hoeie Gjefsen through the final straightaway to move onto the podium - the 64th of her career.
Bovolenta takes first World Cup win, injured in the process
Saturday’s men’s big final was no less thrilling than the ladies’, with multiple passes, another photo-finish, and a first career win for Arnaud Bovolenta that unfortunately resulted in an injury for the French skier after a crash with Daniel Bohnacker (GER) after crossing the line.
Out of the gate in the men’s big final it was Filip Fliar (SLO) who took the lead, and the reigning World Champion looked primed to repeat the performances of his earlier heats where he was consistently able to power his way to top spot.
However, with the top men of the day on his heels, a series of small mistakes leading to the final straightaway saw Flisar dump his speed and slide back to forth, while Bovolenta pulled ahead with Bohnacker and his German countryman Tim Hronek hot in pursuit.
Through the final stretch and across the finish jump the four skiers fanned out in an almost dead-heat that Bovolenta would lead by an arm, with Hronek reaching his way into second and Bohnacker third.
However, Bohnacker’s efforts at the line meant he wasn’t prepared to put on the brakes when Bovolenta had raised his arms to celebrate, and the German crashed into the French winner before the two slid tangled together into the safety netting.
Bovolenta would need to be taken off course on a sled with a possible knee injury, leaving his coach Thibault Combre to accept his medal and crown in the awards ceremony.
While Bovolenta’s teammate Jean Frederic Chapuis was eliminated from competition in the first round of heats, with other top competitors Brady Leman (CAN) and Alex Fiva (SUI) also bowing out early, Chapuis found himself, like Thompson, assured of his third career ski cross crystal globe.
In an interview after awards, Chapuis spoke first of his teammate Bovolenta’s triumph and injury.
“When he got out of the start in second I thought, ‘Ah, this will be his first World Cup win,’” Chapuis said, “Then when I crossed the line I was obviously very happy for him. But we didn’t really see what happened with the crash on the TV. I spoke with him though and he said his knee isn’t so good, and when Bovo feels pain it’s good, because he doesn’t normally feel anything.”
Asked about his third-straight World Cup win - a feat which no man had accomplished before - Chapuis was in a better mood.
“I was kind of lucky today, with Brady and Alex both going out early, as well. But it’s good that this battle for the globe is over now, because when you get closer to the final there’s always more pressure. But to set the record for most globes in a row…I don’t know what to say. It’s cool.”
From here the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup now moves to Blue Mountain (CAN) for the World Cup finals, with the single competition set to take place on March 5, 2017.
GEPA Pictures photos (for editorial use, with credit)