Thompson and Leman capture victories for Canada in Idre Fjall SX
Idre Fjall, SWE - An excellent weekend of competition on the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup tour wrapped up in Idre Fjall (SWE) on Sunday with a huge day for the Canadian squad, with Marielle Thompson and Brady Leman both taking top spots in their respective races in impressive fashion.
The ladies' big final on Sunday saw the Thompson lined up against Saturday's winner Sandra Naeslund (SWE), Fanny Smith (SUI), and Heidi Zacher (GER) for something of a dream final with all of the top four ranked ladies on the World Cup tour this season squaring off in battle royale.
However, despite the wealth of talent on display in the final, Thompson was never really challenged at any point in the heat, moving smoothly through the course's tricky start section and quickly into a lead that she would only build upon through the rest of the heat.
Smith slipped into second behind Thompson to begin with, but was caught by Naeslund just before the start of the big Idre Fjall straightaway and the Swiss skier would not be able to make up any ground Naeslund’s second place result gave the 20-year-old two podiums in tow days, while Smith’s third-place was her fifth podium of the season. Zacher was forced to settle for fourth.
“I was just trying to ski as fast as I could in the final because I knew, after yesterday, that it’s easy to get passed if you make mistakes here,” said Thompson, smiling, “So I was just trying to be super smooth. I know Sandra is really fast and I was expecting her to be right there with me at the end, but I guess I did what I wanted to do. I skied my race and I’m super happy with that.”
With the win, Thompson extends her lead on the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup to 135 points over Naeslund, with 765 to the Swede’s 630. Smith sits just back of Naeslund with 603 points.
Leman snaps five year drought with win
As with Saturday’s competition, the men’s race on Sunday in Idre Fjall was an unpredictable affair, with many of the top skiers bowing out well before they would have liked to or most would have expected.
However, one man who did rise to the occasion was Canada’s Brady Leman, as 2016/17’s most consistent ski cross athlete was able to finally able to earn a victory and break out of a pattern that has seen him earn 17 podiums without a win since February 2012.
Leman lined in the big final against the French pair of Arnaud Bovolenta and Jonas Devouassoux (after those two were able to get by their teammate and World Cup leader Jean Frederic Chapuis in the semi final), as well as Austrian speedster Adam Kappacher.
Through the start section and the first two corners it remained neck-and-neck between Leman and Devouassoux before the Canadian was able to move into the lead, leaving the other three skiers to battle behind him. While Kappacher looked to be reeling in Devouassoux to steal second place, it would actually be Bovolenta who would prove fastest of the three down the final straightaway.
Leman punched his way across the finish line just ahead of Bovolenta for the third victory of his career and first in five years, with Devouassoux taking third and Kappacher earning a career-best fourth-place result.
Leman had five runner-up results in 2016/17 leading up to the race in Idre Fjall, and the Canadian was clearly relieved to make the move to the top step on the podium on Sunday.
“It feels good to finally perform in the finals the way I know I can,” he said following the awards, “Sometimes you come second and you feel like you’ve lost, but that hadn’t been the case for me this season. I’ve actually been pretty pleased with the way I’ve skied for those results, even though it just wasn’t quite there. Today though I just had a ton of confidence. I went for the win right from the top and I was able to hold on. It was perfect skiing right when I needed it in the final.
“And it’s a big day for the team. It always feels like a lousy day when Canada doesn’t have anyone on the podium and we didn’t have anyone on the podium yesterday. So, we weren’t gonna let that happen again today. And it’s great to see Marielle back on top after a tough crash last week.”
With the win, Leman has closed the gap on Chapuis to 143 points, with 616 points to Chapuis’ 759.
After a break next weekend, the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup tour moves into the homestretch, with the competition slated for February 25th at a new ski cross World Cup venue in Sunny Valley (RUS) serving as the last stop before World Cup finals take to the slopes of Blue Mountain (CAN) in early March.
GEPA Pictures photos (for editorial use)