Thompson steps up in front of hometown crowd in Nakiska, CAN
NAKISKA, CAN - There was a lot of chatter going around the race course at the finals of the Audi FIS Freestyle Nakiska Snowdown ski cross World Cup. Some of it had to do with the rumor that southern Alberta was the coldest place on earth the last few days. And the rest of the chatter was the chattering teeth of the fans, volunteers, athletes, coaches, and officials who worked to ensure a race could be held.
The cold wreaked havoc on the Nakiska program. Temperatures that floated between -20c and -30c forced officials, coaches, and athlete representatives to come together with a plan that would have the greatest chance of success in the face of temperatures that bordered on extreme.
That plan ended up being a single race on Saturday preceded by ladies' qualification on Thursday and men's on Friday, in time slots intended to utilize the warmest parts of the day. And while only one of the two races scheduled for the weekend was held, that race was a thrilling one on a truly remarkable Jeff Ihaksi-designed track, providing an epic start to the Audi ski cross World Cup season.
On the ladies' side, former Crystal Globe winner and 2013 World Championships silver medalist Marielle Thompson (CAN) claimed victory and thrilled her hometown crowd with a smooth, dominant performance that saw her win all three of her heats on her way to the final.
In the final, Thompson was matched up against the top three ladies of last season in Fanny Smith (SUI), Ophelie David (FRA), and Marielle Berger Sabbatel (FRA). Thompson, having the lowest qualification rank of that stacked group, was forced to accept the outside gate position in the start.
However, as she had done all day, she powered out of the start gate and slid cleanly across to the inside lane, despite facing down two of the most ferocious competitors on tour in Smith and David. From there, Thompson extended and held her lead as the other ladies jockeyed for position behind, with her only mistake coming over the huge final jump when she nearly fell after sending herself too far into the landing. By then though, it was too late for the rest of the field, and Thomson was able to collect herself and cruise home to victory, followed by Smith, David, and Berger Sabbatel in 4th.
With her win, Thompson secured a ski cross berth at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
In the men's race, it was another all SUI-FRA-CAN final, as 2013 World Champion Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) lined up against last year's 2nd-overall skier Armin Niederer (SUI), 2011-12 2nd-overall skier Brady Leman (CAN), and the somewhat unheralded Jonas Devouassoux (FRA).
At the outset, it appeared the heat would have the three tour heavyweights slugging it out while Devouassoux watched the battle from somewhere in the rear. Instead, it was the bearded Frenchman who jumped from the outside lane, grabbed the hole shot, and, like Thompson in ladies' finals before him, held on to the lead through the grueling 1:30 of twists and jumps.
The win was not only the first victory of 24 year old Devouassoux's career, but his first podium, as well.
Behind Devouassoux, the crowd was treated to a dogfight, as Leman fought desperately to claw back some ground and capture 2nd in front of friends and family who had traveled from his hometown of nearby Calgary to see him race. In the end though, the slick Swiss skier Niederer was able to hold Leman off and the Canadian was forced to settle for 3rd place, with Chapuis taking 4th.
The Audi FIS Freestyle ski cross World Cup moves back across the Atlantic and up into the Alps for a race in Val Thorens, FRA. Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe, with a base situated at 2300m, and will be a drastic change from the heavily tree-lined slopes of Nakiska.
THOMPSON, Marielle (CAN) - I’m super excited that I could make this great crowd that’s been out in the cold all day proud and I’m excited our team’s doing really well. It’s all about the start on this course. I was in that far gate so I knew I had to have a rocket start. I pulled one off and just led the whole way down.”
“It’s just super wild that I can represent Canada in the Olympics.”
DEVOUASSOUX, Jonas (FRA) - “The race was perfect. Everything went well. I'm really happy with the result. It's my first podium, and to begin with a win is just incredible.”
“Out of the start I was first, and I was just thinking 'Now I have to ski faster than the other ones,' and tried to get to the bottom as fast as I could.”
“This year we (the French) have a good team, so we hope to be on the podium again and again. But every race is different, so we'll see.”
FULL LADIES' RESULTS CAN BE FOUND HERE
FULL MEN'S RESULTS CAN BE FOUND HERE