Reaching the top level of Ski Cross racing is a challenge. Staying there is even more difficult, and nobody knows better than Pyeongchang 2018 gold medalist Brady Leman.
On Feb. 27, 2021, Leman had a podium in his sights. He had a slow start to the 2020-21 FIS Ski Cross World Cup season, but in Bakuriani, Georgia, it looked as though he might earn himself a spot back on the coveted steps.
But it wasn’t in the cards. Leman was in the silver medal position when he crashed on the second to last jump. Toppling through the air and landing on the hard-packed snow, he sustained a knee injury, further adding to a season that had not gone to plan.
The Calgary native got up from the crash, but the injuries he sustained benched him for the rest of the season. Before this, Leman has gone relatively unscathed throughout his career, but the injury in Georgia was another blow in a challenging year.
“This last year especially has been really terrible for me,” says Leman, reflecting on the 2020-21 season. “It just seemed like one thing after another with the injuries that I had in the summertime and then the one on skis.”
Getting to the big final in Georgia was a feat in and of itself for Leman, who less than a year prior had a horrific bike crash in the offseason that left him with five broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, and a collapsed and punctured lung. To make matters worse, as he recovered from the crash, he contracted COVID-19, which set season preparations back another several weeks.
The race in Bakuriani was the first time he had made a big final in 2020-21 and the first time he was able to ski for a medal. Up to that point, his best result had been a 13th place finish in Idre Fjall, Sweden.
“It was nice to show myself and show everyone else that I did have some speed left there,” says Leman about making a big final in Georgia. “Up to that point, it had been a really disappointing season performance-wise, so I tried to take some of the positives away from that.”
It was not the first time
Leman has had setbacks and major crashes throughout his career, including an injury just ahead of Vancouver 2010, which was supposed to be his first Olympic race and another crash in the final of the Sochi 2014 Games, landing him just off the podium in fourth.
Through all the injuries, however, he has seldom hurt his knee. “It was pretty scary, coming home early,” he said. “There was a lot of uncertainty there, and it ended up being one of the best-case scenarios for a crash like that.”
Despite the crash in Georgia forcing Leman out of the rest of the season, it was not as bad as it could have been. No surgery was required, and he has been able to build back throughout the offseason to prepare for the 2022 Olympic year.
Defending a gold medal
This upcoming year is one that Leman has looked forward to for several seasons. The Olympics in February gives the veteran a chance to defend his gold medal, an opportunity few athletes ever get.
The added pressure of being the defending Olympic champion may worry some, but Leman is taking it in stride, heading into what is likely his final Olympic Games. “I’m seeing it as a unique opportunity,” he says. “There’s a bit of pressure, but I’m looking at it as a bonus lap.”
The preparations for an Olympic season are not much different from any other year, but after a season of underwhelming results, Leman and his team have changed the approach. From body composition focus through nutrition and adjusted strength plans, to some fundamental changes in the way he skis, the veteran is setting himself up to peak at the right time.
“I needed a wake-up call like that 2020-21 season,” Leman says about his struggles, “It’s easy after 10+ years and 10 pretty solid years to get into routines, go through the motions and expect the results to come, but we needed to make some changes.”
The Canadian Ski Cross team travels to Switzerland for preseason training in the fall; every other year, the other athletes are friendly, but that is different in an Olympic year. “Everyone is a little less happy when we get there because everyone is suddenly on edge about the Olympics.”
This upcoming season is all about getting back to consistent, winning results for Leman and defending his medal. With his offseason in full swing and his knee feeling strong, the Calgary native wants to make 2021-22 his season to remember.