KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Before the Vancouver Olympics, the Canadians set out to own the podium.
Here in Sochi, at least when it comes to freestyle skiing, they’ve kept a nice hold on their purchase.
Marielle Thompson and Kelsey Serwa won gold and silver for Canada in women’s skicross today, giving their country bookend 1-2 performances in Olympic freestyle skiing.
Freestyle opened Feb. 8 with sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal finishing first and second in moguls.
In between, the Canadians sent two people to the freestyle podium twice — in men’s moguls and women’s slopestyle — and also had the men’s silver medalist on the halfpipe.
In all, that’s nine freestyle medals for the country that pumped upward of $110 million into their “Own The Podium” program in advance of the Vancouver Games four years ago.
Canada’s leaders wanted the country to reach its full potential on the mountain and saw opportunities in the wave of action-sports events introduced to the Olympics over the past two decades. They also wanted to build a program that would last — and certainly it has.
This marked Thompson’s third and biggest win of the season. Serwa is a regular on World Cup podiums herself.
The final on a foggy, drizzly day at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park pitted the four fastest women in qualifying. Thompson, ranked third, took an early lead against the first-ranked Serwa and never let it slip.
Ophelie David of France wiped out about two-thirds of the way down the course, which gave the bronze to Sweden’s Anna Holmlund.
Once again, women’s skicross offered its fair share of ugly accidents that could ignite a discussion over whether the Olympic course is built too big for the women.
In back-to-back quarterfinals, Anna Woerner of Germany and Stephanie Joffroy of Chile were taken off the course on stretchers after scary accidents. No updates were immediately provided. Joffroy waved to the crowd at the bottom and Woerner could be seen covering her face with her hands.
Their wrecks were jarring reminders of the dangers of this sport that were amplified when Russian skicross racer Maria Komissarova fractured her spine in training last weekend. She had emergency surgery at a hospital in the mountains and was later taken to Munich, Germany, for another operation.
The “injury” section of Serwa’s official Olympic bio reads like a human anatomy exam: Back, thumb and rib injuries in 2011, ruptured knee ligament after getting caught up in another skier’s pole in 2012, re-tore the knee last March. That’s just the bad stuff.
Like so many in this sport, she started as an Alpine skier but switched when she heard skicross was added to the Olympics for the Vancouver Games.
Thompson, whose “sporting philosphy,” per her biography, is “You’ve got to risk it for the biscuit,” won a silver medal at last year’s world championships and dedicated it to Nik Zoricic, the Canadian who died on the skicross course in Switzerland in 2012.
Zoricic wore blue jeans to training in the early days because he didn’t have the right kind of snow pants. The Canadian team, normally awash in red and white, went with blue, denim-looking snowpants to honor their fallen friend at the Olympics.
There’s some gold, silver and bronze in the mix, as well.
These medals gave Canada 22 for the Olympics with 82 of the 98 events complete.
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