BLUE MOUNTAIN, ONT. (Feb. 2, 2012) – Canada’s top guns have set their sights on owning the podium on home snow after easing through Thursday’s qualification round at the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup in Blue Mountain, Ont.
Five members of a loaded national men’s team – the big four of Dave Duncan, Chris Del Bosco, Brady Leman and Nik Zoricic, plus youngster Tristan Tafel – finished in the top 32 to qualify for Friday’s finals. On the women’s side, Marielle Thompson advanced as the second-fastest qualifier, while Mariannick Therer also finished in the top 16 to qualify for her first World Cup finals heat.
“This is just confirmation of how my skiing’s going right now. I always feel like I’m in there,” said Duncan, of London, Ont., who was third fastest in qualifying and the top Canadian with a time of one minute, 2.99 seconds. “To come down here in third gives me a little bit more confidence going into tomorrow and hopefully I can step on to that podium again.”
Duncan was third at the X Games last weekend and is hoping to secure his second World Cup podium of the 2011-12 season.
“It was a pretty good day,” Duncan said of Thursday’s qualification round. “It hardened up overnight so the speeds are faster and it kind of caters to the Canadians, who like to get a little bit more air and ski with a little more speed.”
X Games gold medallist and reigning ski cross world champion Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que. – the winner of last year’s men’s race at Blue Mountain – was seventh fastest Thursday after clocking a time of 1:03.22. Leman, of Calgary, Alta., was 16th (1:03.50), Zoricic, of Toronto, Ont., was 21st (1:03.65) and Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., was 23rd (1:03.72).
Duncan, Del Bosco, Leman and Zoricic have all had podiums on the World Cup circuit this year but for Zoricic, in particular, finishing in the top three on home snow would be “very, very, very special,” he said.
“My parents are here, my friends are here, my relatives are here,” Zoricic said. “This is the only chance they get to watch me compete. If I were to choose any event to win this would be the one, so tomorrow’s a big day.
“It didn’t go quite as well as I hoped (Thursday), but the start’s fair so I don’t think positioning is going to be that important. Tomorrow’s another day.”
Tafel took part in his first World Cup qualification round here last year but missed out on the finals by the narrowest of margins.
“Last year I was six one-hundredths out of qualifying and this year I made it in. I’ve got some family and fans here so I’m pretty excited,” Tafel said. “It wasn’t too bad - I had a few minor mistakes. I didn’t have quite the same pull out of the start that I normally do. I just rolled with it and tried to keep my speed going.”
Whistler, B.C.’s Stan Rey just missed out on qualifying for Friday’s round of 32 when he finished 33d in 1:04.20 – just two-hundredths of a second behind 32nd place. Whistler’s Davey Barr was 40th (1:04.60) and Brian Bennett, of Quesnel, B.C., was 42nd (1:04.66). Former national team member Stan Hayer was 43rd in 1:04.69.
The fastest man on the day was Austrian ace Andreas Matt (1:02.58), while Finland’s Jouni Pellinen was second (1:02.92).
On the women’s side, Whistler’s Thompson once again looked fast on her skis as she finished second in qualifying with a time of 1:07.37. Norway’s Hedda Berntsen was first (1:07.09) and Australia’s Sami Kennedy-Sim was third (1:07.39). With less women than men racing, the top 16 finishers qualified for Sunday's finals.
“I made a few mistakes but that happens,” Thompson said. “It’s a good place for going into racing tomorrow and I hope to do well. It was pretty fun. It was a bit sugary in the corners today, but hopefully that will get cleared out tomorrow and it will be a bit harder. I want to go as fast as I can.”
Therer, of Saint-Sauveur, Que., has taken part in several World Cup qualification events and was overjoyed to make it through to the finals for the first time.
“I’m really excited. I’m so happy, so overwhelmed. I’m so stoked about this,” said Therer, who finished 13th with a time of 1:08.70.
Eric Archer, head coach of the men’s team, was happy with the results on the women’s side but was disappointed to see Rey, Barr and Bennett eliminated.
“Marielle skied well and Mari (Therer) got into her first elimination final,” Archer said. “For the guys, it was a little bit of a rough day in the qualifiers but our big horses are in the race.”