HEARTBREAK HILL Defago rocks downhill, Guay leads Cowboys
COVERT CANUCKS Will Top Secret bring a home-team edge?
AMERICAN SANDWICH Heil snags moguls silver between Kearney, Bahrke
OLYMPIC WEEKLY NO. 1 Feb. 17, 2010
BILODEAU CLAIMS HISTORIC GOLD
Volume 5, Number 4
Passion* Great athletes have great passion: for the exhilaration of going faster and further, for the thrill of testing their own limits and for the satisfaction of taking their sport to new heights. We follow their highs and lows for the sheer joy of watching great men and women give it everything they’ve got. Good luck to all our athletes as they compete on the world stage. Proud to say we support Alpine Canada Alpin.
*connectedthinking © 2010 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. All rights reserved. “PricewaterhouseCoopers” refers to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an Ontario limited liability partnership, or, as the context requires, the PricewaterhouseCoopers global network or other member ﬁrms of the network, each of which is a separate and independent legal entity. 6047-0110 Jean-Philippe Roy photographed by ACA/Pentaphoto.
CONTENTS SRC Olympic Weekly – February 17, 2010 – Vol. 5, No. 4 DEPARTMENTS 8
SKIPARAZZI Olympians at their finest
ALPINE OLYMPIC COVERAGE Whistler magic: Defago rules men’s downhill
Graphic Designer Senior Editors
FREESTYLE OLYMPIC COVERAGE Alex the Great: Bilodeau delivers historic win
SNOWBOARD OLYMPIC COVERAGE Canada’s Robertson claims silver
Mark Tzerelshtein Michael Mastarciyan Don Cameron
REGULAR CONTRIBUTORS Tom McCarthy, Sean Stevens, Marina Ellis, Brian Stemmle, Carl Petersen, Michael Mastarciyan, Howard Cole, John Evely, Oliver Kraus, Mike Ridewood, Michel Painchaud. ADVERTISING Sales Manager
Mark Kristofic firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover photo by John Evely/SRC
WEB SITE Webmaster
Don Cameron email@example.com
COVERT CANUCKS Will Top Secret program deliver home-team edge?
Alana Richter firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR’S NOTE By Gordie Bowles
True Olympic champions he Olympic “movement” is much more than a sporting event.
The ultimate ambition of the Olympics is to inspire youth to: A. get involved in physical activity; or B. get off their asses and away from
the computer and digital world. The first week of the Olympics has displayed no shortage of true Olympic
SRC is an independent publication of BK Media Inc. and is published eight times per year. Editorial Office: 5562 4th Ave. Delta, B.C., V4M 4H2. Subscriptions: For circulation inquiries or address updates, contact subscriptions@ srcmag.ca or visit www.srcmag.ca.
champions — and hopefully inspiration for our youth. When I say “champions,” I don’t mean winners in sport, but more champions in life. Alexandre Bilodeau is one of those champions. Alex has a special and unique relationship with his older brother, Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy. The inspiration they give one another is the champion quality I am referring to and something from which we can all learn. “We play golf sometimes, me, my father and him,” said Bilodeau. “He’s never mad at himself. Just enjoying the moment. He’s going to hit the ball until he gets it. It’s a show watching him, like ‘Wow. How a person can be like that, enjoying life. He’s got problems to walk. Everything. But here he is playing golf.’ ”
Publication Mail Agreement: 41254013. Canada Post number 7229094. ISSN: 1913-9861, SRC (Print), ISSN 1913-987x (SRCmag.ca). “We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Magazine Fund toward our editorial costs.”
When we all watched Bilodeau claim a historic gold medal for Canada on Monday night (see “Alex the Great,” page 16) we witnessed more than a gold medallist. Bilodeau is a champion.
Gordie Bowles Editor-in-Chief
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CANUCKS Top Secret promises a home-team edge. Will it deliver the goods in Vancouver?
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BY MARINA ELLIS hey couldn’t have chosen a more intriguing name for the program. Even people who don’t care about winter sport have become curious about Own the Podium’s mysterious Top Secret project. Visions of laboratories, high-tech equipment and Batman-style gadgets spring to mind. Until now, enquiries from journalists predominantly have been turned down, and few details have been explained. All that is typically mentioned has to do with how the program is designed “to give Canadian athletes the edge in equipment, technology, information and training.” But with the Games upon us, the nation’s leading sport technicians and scientists have begun to open up, feeling it’s essentially too late for other nations to play copycat. Todd Allinger, manager of Top Secret — or manager of what some reporters jokingly refer to as the “wouldn’t you like to know” project — has been pushing for the program since 2002. “In Salt Lake we heard the athletes saying, ‘We can’t beat the Austrians, they have the best skis,’ and the speed skaters were saying, ‘We can’t beat the U.S., they have better suits,’ ” Allinger relates during an interview over lunch at the University of British Columbia campus. “So there was a gap there and we felt the athletes weren’t getting the best equipment and weren’t confident in what they had.” Once VANOC and the Canadian government got together to create Own the Podium in 2005, there was finally a chance for Canadian teams to focus on the details and compete for the podium with any nation. For the past five years, OTP has pumped more than $8 million into Top Secret and whittled 80,000 project proposals down to the 55 most crucial. The projects have been split between four working groups — air sports, ice sports, human performance and snow sports. Here we’ll focus on the projects aimed at alpine, freestyle, snowboard and cross-country, which fall within the human performance and snow sports groups. Although Allinger is obviously not comfortable explaining all of the tricks up Own the Podium’s sleeve, he says he’s happy to give general information on some of the main developments considering the closeness of the Games. Own the Podium has decided it’s too late for other countries to reproduce their technology, plus a little media attention around “top-secret research” would surely
add to the intimidation factor of the Canadian team. Here are the details …
Canadian Ivan Babikov reviewing test results with his coaches during a training camp on the Haig glacier in September 2009. Photo: John Evely/SRC
Britt Janyk testing a GPS system during a training camp at Whistler in 2008. Photo: Paul Morrison/SRC
One of the chief projects spanning the majority of the snow sports has to do with waxing. According to Allinger, the OTP project has brought together ski and wax technicians from each of the sports with a group of researchers from UBC. “It’s the first time there’s been an exchange of ideas between sports ... in the past the sports usually have a limited amount of money and they’ve had to focus on what they need to get done,” Allinger explains. “Now with this group we’ve been able to share secrets or knowledge across sports for the first time ever.” A lot of the research centers around the hydrophobicity — the ability to repel water — of the ski or board. The technicians will take an aftermarket ski and alter the base materials. “We use a new measurement technique to find the most hydrophobic material as possible,” Allinger describes. “We have this camera system where you put a drop of water on the base material and then you take a picture of it so you can measure the contact angle.” The right amount of hydrophobicity ensures the athlete glides across the snow at the ideal level. UBC Reports recently released an article detailing their study for Top Secret. The team of engineers takes its inspiration from nature. Professor Savvas Hatzikiriakos led the study of an unusual ski wax muse — the lotus leaf. “We have mimicked nature to create a lowfriction surface on various metals and polymers,” Hatzikiriakos tells Erinrose Handy of
“NOW WITH THIS GROUP WE’VE BEEN ABLE TO SHARE SECRETS OR KNOWLEDGE ACROSS SPORTS FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.” UBC Reports. “We’ve copied the nanopatterns of the lotus leaf to engineer materials that reduce friction on both snow and ice.” For the past three seasons, the team’s findings were tested during February in the 2010 Games field of play, a luxury most other countries weren’t afforded. “Hopefully we have similar weather conditions that we will at the Games,” Allinger says with a grin. When asked if there are other countries out there doing the same kind of testing here in B.C., Allinger notes that the Norwegian wax company Swix has been doing testing in the Callaghan Valley. This doesn’t faze him though. “We’ve gained a lot of knowledge that we didn’t have before. We’re at least equal with Swix and I think we are ahead of them in some areas.” >> SRCmag.ca
See the complete story at SRCmag.ca www.srcmag.ca
PARAZZI Gossip, news and entertainment from the snowsports world FRENCH-IMMERSION SCHOOL ADOPTS JANYK SIBLINGS A West Vancouver French-immersion elementary school adopted World Cup racers Mike Janyk and Britt Janyk last fall and followed the Olympians every step of the way in their march toward the Games. The students have been writing assignments on a classroom bulletin board and learning about the places where the World Cup ski racers compete on a weekly basis, said École Cedardale
Britt and Mike Janyk speaking to the students at École Cedardale, a French-immersion elementary school, during a special assembly. Photo: Sean Frith, for SRC.
BOOK REVIEW: THE CRAZY CANUCKS, BY JANET LOVE MORRISON The most recent book on the legendary Canadian alpine ski racers — the Crazy Canucks — launched in late 2009. The story takes readers down an intimate path to one of the most colourful chapters in Canadian sports history.
principal Chantal Trudeau. Britt and Mike attended a French-immersion school in West Vancouver before moving to Whistler to pursue their family’s passion for ski racing.
Manny Osborne-Paradis. Photo: Paul Morrison/SRC.
BEDBUGS DON’T SLOW MANNY
Author Janet Love Morrison is flanked by Dave Irwin, left, and Steve Podborski during the Lake Louise World Cup races in early December 2009. Photo: Michael Painchaud, for SRC.
If you think the alpine team lives in a lap of luxury, think again. Manny Osborne-Paradis, the topranked Canadian downhill racer, had to contend with a different kind of competition at his Whistler condo: bedbugs. Sharing a room with his Whistler teammate Robbie Dixon, Manny made a quick change of sheets the next morning, and mysteriously Dixon, who was sleeping five feet away in the next bed, saw no signs of the creepy-crawly creatures. And just in case bedbug hunters were listening, Manny quickly noted that he’s a one-bed man. “I have a girlfriend. I want to make it clear I’m not going around sleeping in any other room.”
The book captures the essence of the fearless Canadian racers — Jim Hunter, David Murray, Dave Irwin, Ken Read and Steve Podborski — through their unique journey of hurling themselves down the treacherous slopes of the European-dominated sport, where the Canadians made themselves favourites across Europe. At first they were regarded as a bit of a joke when they travelled in a rusty old Volkswagen and showed little regard for the niceties of European alpine traditions. But soon the wins began to pile up and the “Kamikaze Canadians” — the first name coined by the European media — became one of the most successful non-European ski teams of all time. Available at Amazon.com.
SPRUCE GROVE PUTS OLYMPIC SKIER ON THE MAP ... LITERALLY Olympic moguls skier Jenn Heil is a fierce competitor on the world stage, with four World Cup overall titles under her belt, and now her hometown of Spruce Grove, Alberta, is putting it in writing, naming one of the town’s roads after the Canadian freestyler. Jennifer Heil Way was unveiled in Spruce Grove in early January, with hometown friends and family members standing by as the world-class skier happily accepted the honour. “It’s so surreal. ... I can’t even imagine it’s going to be on the road — an actual sign,” said Heil.
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WHISTLER MAGIC Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal nails a turn in the mid-section of the Dave Murray Downhill at Whistler, B.C., during the men's Olympic downhill. Photo: Paul Morrison/SRC.
ALPINE HEARTBREAK HILL DEFAGO RULES MEN’S DOWNHILL, CANADIANS OFF THE PODIUM WHISTLER, B.C. — Switzerland’s “other” Didier upstaged favourite Didier Cuche and a foursome of Canadians to win the men’s Olympic downhill Monday. Veteran Didier Defago nailed the Dave Murray Downhill course in a winning time of 1 minute, 54.31 seconds as the oft-delayed Olympic alpine program got under way. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal took the silver and American Bode Miller, who led for much of the early part of the race, earned his third Olympic medal with bronze. Svindal was just .07 back and Miller .09 back in the closest Olympic downhill ever. Canadian Erik Guay was slow at the top of the course but consistently gained time back, eventually finishing just .33 back for fifth place. Mario Scheiber of Austria was one spot better in fourth. Home-snow advantage was not enough to give Canada its fourth medal of the Games. Manny Osborne-Paradis made one big mistake and fell out of contention, placing 17th. Robbie Dixon, second in training, survived an early bobble but later crashed out. Jan Hudec started back in 31st and never threatened the leaders. “For sure we’re looking for podiums here at the Olympics, but fifth place is my best result of the year. I’m satisfied with it but I just wish I’d gotten after it more at the start of the course,” Guay said. Snow conditions were a lot different than the training runs, Guay noted. “It froze up nicely,” he said. “Today I’d have to say was a World Cup course, probably the thirdhardest of the World Cup courses. The veteran skiers were able to take advantage of that.” Guay analyzed his run: “The top part I was thrown off and my line wasn’t ideal. But from about 30 seconds on, I started to ski and started to feel and attack the hill more. From there I was picking up more and more time. It’s a shame it (the finish line) wasn’t 200 metres lower.” Defago, 32, had never medaled at the Olympics or World Championships. In fact, he downright struggled in two previous Games, with a top finish of sixth in super-G at the 2002 Snowbasin event. He was sixth in super-G at the Whistler World Cup in February 2008. His lone World Cup victory came in a super-G in Val Gardena, Italy, way back in 2002 before he won the two most prestigious downhills of the World
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Canadian Erik Guay led the Canadian Cowboys in the men's Olympic downhill, finishing off the podium in fifth place after a solid run down the Dave Murray track. Photo: Paul Morrison/SRC. Didier Defago became the first Swiss racer to win the Olympic men’s downhill since Pirmin Zurbriggen in 1988 at Canada’s last Olympic Games in Calgary. Photo: Paul Morrison/SRC.
Cup season on back-to-back weekends last year in Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbühel, Austria. At 32 years and 4 months, Defago became the oldest man to win the Olympic downhill, three months older than Frenchman Jean-Luc Cretier when he won at the 1998 Nagano Games. Defago joins Pirmin Zurbriggen (1988 Calgary Games) and Bernhard Russi (1972) as Swiss Olympic downhill gold medallists. Wearing bib No. 8, Miller, now a dad at age 32, turned in a flawless performance to add to his pair of silver medals from the 2002 Salt Lake Games — in giant slalom and combined. Miller was fifth in downhill at the Torino Games. It was the eighth medal for Miller at the elite alpine events — the Olympics and World Championships. He earned two golds and a silver at the 2003 World Championships and two golds at the 2005 World Championships. Cuche, the leader in the World Cup downhill standings, was in medal contention until the final interval, when he fell back to sixth place. Austrian Michael Walchhofer also lost time late and saw his medal hopes dashed. Guay said a few factors were important in the Canadian team’s performance in the downhill. “Manny probably had more pressure than anyone else, being from Whistler and his great
BODE STILL A BURLY BEAR, BUT BACK WITH LEADERS
Bode Miller. Photo: Mike Robertson.
results throughout the year,” Guay said. “And Robbie being from Whistler too and he didn’t ski Kitzbühel and Wengen, so he came in here without too much race prep. I think on his side he showed the nerves a bit, straddling the pole up at the top, and that mistake in Fallaway. Robbie had the potential, he was skiing for a podium.” The race was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed for 48 hours due to the mix of warm temperatures, heavy snowfall, rain and fog that have wreaked havoc with the alpine schedule at the Vancouver Games. Conditions were still overcast Monday but the temperature fell below freezing overnight, making the course hard enough for skiers to dig their edges in and maintain control at speeds up to nearly 75 mph (120 kph). Flat and dim light created some visibility problems, although there was none of the midmountain fog that had plagued the alpine venue the previous several days. SRC — SRC’s Gordie Bowles and The Canadian Press contributed to this report
It is no secret that Bode’s love affair with the media is ... well, nonexistent. Let’s just say Mr. Miller might rather spend time with a tarantula in a small cage than five minutes with the world’s paper, television and Web scribes. But his candidness and openly forthright responses are perceived as refreshing by some. Miller returned to the limelight Monday, breaking his personal streak of major championship failures, by taking the downhill bronze in Whistler. “It was a huge relief to execute and ski well,” Miller said. “Obviously it would’ve been great to be a little faster. I was psyched. I skied hard.” Miller, who hinted that he might not be 100 percent physically after skipping summer training while he debated his future, lost nearly half a second on the bottom of the course and appeared on the verge of exhaustion as he had a bit of a tough time landing the final jump leading into the finish line. — Gordie Bowles
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FREESTYLE Women’s Moguls
Jenn Heil, centre, of Spruce Grove, Alta., took the silver, Hannah Kearney, right, of the United States the gold and USA’s Shannon Bahrke the bronze in the women's moguls final at Cypress Mountain to kick off freestyle action at the Winter Olympic Games. Photo: Mike Ridewood
KEARNEY DENIES HEIL GOLD IN DRAMATIC CYPRESS SHOWDOWN WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — The monkey had to wait one more night before getting off the host nation’s back. Jennifer Heil came close to delivering Canada’s first-ever Olympic gold on Canadian snow but had to settle for the silver medal after a conservative final run and a hard-charging performance by American Hannah Kearney. Kearney scored higher than Heil in each category (turns, speed and air) under the lights at Cypress Mountain and claimed the gold medal with a final score of 26.63. Heil, of Spruce Grove, Alberta, the gold medallist from the 2006 Torino Games, finished with a final score of 25.69, ahead of bronze medallist Shannon Bahrke (25.53), while Canadian upstart Chloe Dufour-Lapointe finished fifth. “I did what I wanted to do and I’m really proud,” Heil said. “I felt like I was standing on the shoulders of so many Canadians. I felt like I had their wings on my back. This is Canada’s medal.” Kristi Richards of Penticton, B.C., was fourth in qualifications and started the finals with an aggressive approach, but she came out of the first jump too fast and fell mid-course, finishing out of contention. “My ski got caught. It’s unfortunate but I’m really happy I pushed myself and finished,” Richards said. Norwich, Vermont’s Kearney had some his-
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tory of her own to atone for. Kearney was the defending world champion at the Torino Games in 2006 when she bobbled coming out of the gate, never got her bearings and finished 22nd — out of the finals and forced to watch Heil win it all from the bottom. “I heard the roar of the crowd after Jenn’s (Heil) run and I knew that I had to have the run of my life,” Kearney said at a news conference shortly after the medal ceremony. “My first run was fast, borderline out of control. I wanted this medal.” In the finals, Bahrke, the 2002 silver medallist, held the lead for much of the finals before Heil turned in her magnificent effort. That left just one competitor — Kearney — between Heil and the gold. Kearney pulled off a back flip on her top jump and a 360-degree spin on her second, her legs knitted tightly together on both, the perfect example of the form and function judges love to see when they’re handing out Olympic gold. Same scene as she tore through the slushy, rain-soaked moguls — knees pointed forward and down the hill and hands moving in rhythm with the bumps. Americans Michelle Roark and Heather McPhie placed 17th and 18th, respectively, and Canadian veteran Richards fell to 20th in the finals. SRC — The Canadian Press contributed to this report
GLOWING HEARTS ON DISPLAY AT CYPRESS The wet and cold conditions didn’t damper the Canadian spirit at Cypress — 25 kilometres north of Vancouver in the North Shore Mountains — as the large, boisterous crowd erupted when each of the three Canadians were introduced in the women’s moguls final. “It’s so amazing, being at the Olympics in Canada. All my friends and family are here,” Jenn Heil said after placing second in the qualifying run a few hours earlier. Heil came into the Olympics with four straight victories in the World Cup and emerged with Canada’s first skiing medal of the Games. — Gordie Bowles
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ALEX THE GREAT Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau, centre, savors his gold medal in men's moguls at Cypress Mountain during the Olympic Winter Games on Sunday, Feb. 14. Dale Begg-Smith, left, of Australia took the silver and Bryon Wilson of the United States the bronze. Photo: John Evely/SRC
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FREESTYLE Menâ€™s Moguls Alexandre Bilodeau of Rosemere, Que., skis to second place in the men's moguls qualification before recording a gold medal in the finals. Photo: Mike Ridewood
Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau reacts after winning the men's moguls at Cypress during the Winter Olympic Games. Photo: John Evely/SRC
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WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — The drought is done. One night after Jennifer Heil’s oh-so-close silver effort, Canada’s moguls team delivered gold at Cypress, with Alexandre Bilodeau seizing the Olympic title in the men’s moguls competition. The victory marks Canada’s first-ever gold at a home Olympics. Second in the afternoon qualifying, Bilodeau threw down a scintillating run in the finals to overtake Australian Dale Begg-Smith for gold. Bilodeau was second in turns and air and third in speed to score 26.75. Vancouver native Begg-Smith, who moved to Australia as a teenager and had dominated the recent men’s moguls scene, scored 26.58 for silver, one spot below his 2006 Torino gold. American Bryon Wilson grabbed bronze at 26.08. Canada took three of the top five positions, with Vincent Marquis fourth and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau fifth. Maxime Gingras placed 11th. When the final skier, Guilbaut Colas of France, had his sixth-place score flashed on the board, the Canadian crowd went crazy. It has been nearly 34 years since the cauldron was first lit for the Summer Games in Montreal, and 22 since the last Canadian Games in Calgary. And now, the land of the Maple Leaf has its moment. “I don’t think I really realize it,”
Bilodeau said. “It’s too good to be true.” Bilodeau, last season’s World Cup overall champion, had placed second in the afternoon qualifying, with France’s Colas setting the pace. Gingras was sixth and Rousseau seventh. In the final, Bilodeau, of Rosemere, Que., executed a back full off the top air and a flawless back iron cross off the bottom air. On a night made for raucous celebration, there was a poignant scene, as well — the one of Bilodeau’s brother, Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy, cheering in a wheelchair near the bottom of the course behind the fence.
The same fence Bilodeau crashed into at the bottom, after he sped through the final moguls to finish a run that teetered precariously between control and chaos. He made it, though, and in the end, it was his risk-taking that made a difference. He and Wilson were the only two men in the finals who dared try a back flip with two twists on the top jump. Begg-Smith has been dominating for years with less-difficult jumps; though he executed them cleanly, he lost because he was more than a half-second slower. — The Canadian Press contributed to this report
performance. inspired. Good Luck Britt!
Photo: Paul Morrison
GOLDEN BREAKTHROUGH: BILODEAU DELIVERS WIN FOR CANADA IN MEN’S MOGULS
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MOGULS LONG AND WINDING ROAD FOR ROUSSEAU
Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau. Photo: Mike Ridewood
Canadian veteran skier Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau made his Olympic debut at Cypress after years of tough luck and struggles that had kept him off the Olympic roster. The 13-year veteran broke his neck in a skiing accident just prior to the Salt Lake City 2002 Games and then narrowly missed the qualification standards. After his final run was over, the 30-year-old Drummondville, Quebec-born skier covered his face with both hands then thrust them into the air. He turned and faced the crowd, pointed to the corner of the stands where his family was sitting. “They bought tickets in 2002. We were watching together in 2006,” said Rousseau, who finished fifth. “Can you imagine that?” — Gordie Bowles
TEAM USA – LESS GLITZ, MORE PUNCH Lacking the star power of previous Games, the American moguls team had a solid performance, especially by Bryon Wilson, who claimed the bronze medal after a fast and fearless final run. Without stars like Jonny Moseley, winner of 1998 moguls gold, and two-time World Cup winner Jeremy Bloom, as well as Toby Dawson, bronze medallist from Torino in 2006, the American team has been shaped by lesser-known names. But the American team put on a great show at Cypress and the future in the sport appears to be healthy with young upstarts like Michael Morse and Patrick Deneen leading the charge. — Gordie Bowles
NATIVE COUNTRY GET’S THE COLD SHOULDER FROM BEGG-SMITH
Dale Begg-Smith of Australia take the silver medal in the men's moguls final at Cypress Mountain during the Olympics Winter Games. Photo: Mike Ridewood
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Vancouver-born Dale Begg Smith, competing in his third Olympic Games for Australia, spoke only to Australian media prior to the men’s moguls finals at Cypress Mountain and had a tough time facing them during the press conference after he claimed a silver medal. A man of very few words to begin with, Begg-Smith appears to struggle with the media, answering questions with ambiguity and inconsistency. "For everyone out there it was special, there was no favouritism,” he said referring to the nearly 9,000 pro-Canadians fans. The skier known as the “Ice Man” skis clean, consistent and sometimes without flaw, but with younger competitors taking more risk, he may need to reshape or retool his routine. — Gordie Bowles
SNOWBOARD CANADA’S ROBERTSON CLAIMS SBX SILVER WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — Even in a sport as wild and unpredictable as snowboardcross, it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise to see the Olympic champion defend his title. Heading into the last half of Monday’s final, the 33-year-old from Maine was barely within shouting distance of Canadian Mike Robertson. Then, out of nowhere, Wescott closed the gap, overtook the Canadian and held him off at the finish to take the gold medal — his second straight and America’s second of these Winter Olympics. “That kind of gap, most people — well, really, nobody, overcomes that,” said America’s snowboard coach Peter Foley. Tony Ramoin of France won the bronze, finishing ahead of American Nate Holland, whose spinout about a third of the way down the course set up what looked like a breeze for Robertson, an underdog who was going for his country’s second gold medal of the Games. Wescott made up the distance over a series of five consecutive jumps that can sap speed if not executed correctly. “I’d made some mistakes in there earlier in the day,” Wescott said. “I knew if I came back and executed it correctly, I could do it. It wasn’t a situation of looking for a miracle at all.” The crowd, about half Canadian and half American, gasped and cheered. Wescott crossed the line first and fell to the ground, then draped the Stars and Stripes across his shoulders. Cypress has been a good venue for Canada, with three of the country’s four medals so far coming at the West Vancouver venue — silver in snowboardcross, Jenn Heil’s women’s moguls silver and Alexandre Bilodeau’s historic gold in mens’ moguls Sunday. Wescott’s result was hard to believe — not so much because of his history in the sport but because of his last two months. Wescott dinged up his leg and pelvis at an event two months ago, couldn’t walk for two weeks and came to the Olympics admittedly not riding his best. He finished 17th of the 32 riders in qualifying — not up to his standards — and was one of the few riders who would acknowledge that the conditions at weather-plagued Cypress Mountain — slushy, flat light, inconsistent snow — were crummy. “You’re pretty much riding blind in there,” he said between qualifying and the finals.
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Canadian Mike Robertson, shown here in World Cup snowboardcross action, picked up Canada's first-ever men's snowboardcross medal with a silver at Cypress on Monday, Feb. 15. Photos: Oliver Kraus/FIS
This year’s top-ranked rider in the World Cup, France’s Pierre Vaultier, got mixed up with Canadian Drew Nielson and wiped out. Last year’s World Cup champion, Markus Schairer, came in with broken ribs and left early after a wipeout. American Graham Watanabe, who qualified second, got beat in a photo finish, and his teammate, Nick Baumgartner, slipped and went sprawling into the netting. Another Canadian, Francois Boivin, did a somersault and a face plant.
On and on it went until Holland, the American who won his fifth straight Winter X Games last month — made the final mistake, a spinout that knocked Wescott back to third, way behind Robertson, who missed the wreck. But maybe the message Wescott sent is that snowboardcross, for all its craziness, isn’t so unpredictable after all. It has been in the Olympics twice, and Wescott has won them both. The sport was brought to the Olympics in 2006 to inject some life and youth and X Games attitude into Games that were, by many measures, falling behind the times. It did that. So much so that the Olympics are introducing its cousin, ski cross, to the program this year. These races are must-see TV, NASCAR on ice, some crazy crash or unseen stumble lurking around or behind every one of those bumps and jumps and, in this case, even a few ledges to keep everybody honest. Organizers even got two of the riders, Baumgartner and seventh-place finisher Mario Fuchs, to wear mini-cams on their heads to give TV viewers a first-person view of what it’s like skidding down the hill at 30 mph, trading paint, and elbows, in a constant struggle for position. And luckily this time, there was nothing too violent, no need for anyone to be taken off in a stretcher or worse — an issue that came to the fore after the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run last week. SRC — The Canadian Press contributed to this report
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