February 17, 2006
Maltais crashes to bronze
PAT GRIER -- Sun Media

TURIN, Italy - Quebec's Dominique Maltais won bronze this morning in the wild and wacky sport of snowboard cross, a new event to the Olympics that is quickly surpassing short-track speed skating in its unpredictability.

Despite crashing through the netting and off the course, the 25-year-old Montreal firefighter from Petite-Riviere-Saint-Francois, Que. was able to get back on course and finish.

But another Canadian, Whistler's Maelle Ricker, was not so fortunate. The 27-year-old fell coming off a jump early in the race and slammed into the ground. She was taken down the hill on a stretcher and helicoptered to a Turin hospital with a bruised lower back and mild concussion. She was classified fourth overall.

Like most boarders, Maltais was not surprised at the bizarre turn of events.

"That's snowboard cross," she said. "Often things happen like that.

"I didn't believe (I had won a medal) until the end of the race."

The gold was won by Switzerland's Tanja Frieden, who flew by leader Lindsay Jacobellis when the American fell after hotdogging off the second-to-last jump about 150 metres from the finish. Jacobellis grabbed her board and twisted in the air and fell on the landing, but because of the Canadians' troubles further up the course, she was able to recover and take the silver.

"I was really excited, everything seemed to be going so well, then I landed badly," Jacobellis said. "I got a bit frustrated because I have worked so much. (But) the silver medal at the Olympics is still a silver medal."

Her coach, Peter Foley, tried to shrug off his boarders' antics.

"She just caught an edge," he said. "I don't think she was showing off. She always grabs on the jumps."

It looked like Canada might grab two medals after Ricker and Maltais easily advanced to the final.

The pair qualified 1-2 respectively, each won their quarter-finals and Ricker easily won her semi while Maltais finished a comfortable second.

Two other Canadians, Erin Simmons of West Vancouver and Dominique Vallee of Montreal were also entered but failed to make the top 16 qualifiers after the two time trials. Simmons, 29, was 17th (a combined time of one minute, 33.24 seconds) while the 24-year-old Vallee was 19th (1:34.76).

Snowboard cross is a new event in the Olympics and sees four racers down the course at the same time. The first two from each race keep advancing until the medal round.

Like short-track speed skating, the race is as much about positioning as speed as the other boarders on the course can affect a racer's line into corners and jumps. Getting to the front of the pack early is vital to avoid the frequent collisions that occur.

Maltais was originally a half-pipe boarder, but switched to the cross three years ago. She is fourth in the World Cup standings and won a race earlier this season in Bad Gastein, Austria.

The medal boosts Canada's total to nine - one gold, three silvers and five bronze, putting them fifth in the total medal standings. The Canadian Olympic Committee has a stated goal of finishing third in total medals at these Olympics. The country's previous best total was the 17 in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Canada's haul should increase to 10 as Calgary's Jeff Pain competes in the men's skeleton later this afternoon.

Ricker, who is originally from North Vancouver, previously competed for Canada in the half-pipe at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, finishing fifth. She suffered a serious of knee injuries in the ensuing years and only recently returned to form.

She was third in snowboard cross at the world championships in Whistler, B.C. this past December and is fifth in this season's World Cup standings. She won gold at the latest X Winter Games.







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