McIvor the lone bright spot for ski cross

Came second at Blue Mountain

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It was a tough day on the slopes for The ‘Eh’ Team.

Some of the top racers from the top ski cross team in the world fell by the wayside as Wednesday’s World Cup ski cross race unfolded on a cold and cloudy afternoon at Blue Mountain.

A number of pre-race favourites from the vaunted Canadian team, including Chris Del Bosco, Stanley Hayer and Julia Murray, failed to make it past the heats and the semifinals, much to the disappointment of the enthusiastic crowd that hugged the southern Ontario course.

But it was the ever-consistent Ashleigh McIvor — the only member of the ski cross team who already has qualified for next month’s Olympic Games — who came through with the goods again, finishing second in the women’s final behind Marte Hoeie Gjefsen of Norway.

McIvor, 26, the 2009 world championship gold medallist from Whistler, B.C., landed on the podium thanks to a combination of good luck, daring and skill. Despite the fact that she has long pre-qualified for Vancouver, McIvor keeps doing well in the World Cup, refusing to hold anything back.

“I think it’s better for me,” McIvor said, when asked about not having to worry about qualifying for Vancouver. “I do better when I’m focused on the fun side of it, with no pressure.”

McIvor almost didn’t make it out of Wednesday’s semifinals. She was sitting third part way through the race (with only two moving on to the final), behind teammate Danielle Poleschuk and Magdalena Iljans of Sweden. But Poleschuk appeared to lose an edge and crashed into the Swede, who was leading, allowing McIvor to finish first and move on. In the semi, McIvor actually yielded to Winnipeg’s Poleschuk at one point, knowing that her teammate needed a top finish to help qualify for Vancouver. Poleschuk ended up sixth overall.

“I advanced (to the final) thanks to some misfortune on their end,” McIvor said. “But that’s the beauty for ski cross. Anything can happen. Even if you’re near the back, just stay on your feet and stay focused and it works out sometimes.”

McIvor did not get off to a great start in the final, almost crashing when one of her skies suddenly became airborne. For much of the race she was third, but managed to pass Sasa Faric of Slovenia for second.

McIvor does not seem like a typical ski-cross athlete. In a sport that has been described as a combination of alpine skiing, NASCAR and roller derby, often the most aggressive and daring racer wins. And the women are as combative as the men. Perhaps more so.

“The guys on my team are always saying the girls are way nastier than the men — pulling and pushing and screaming,” McIvor said with a laugh. “Even my mom was saying, I seem to be this shy, sort of passive person. But once the gate opens, I go on auto pilot and get into the zone.”

There is one World Cup remaining, this coming weekend in Lake Placid, N.Y., before the Canadian freestyle team is named for the Olympic Games. Only 18 athletes from the three freestyle disciplines — ski cross, moguls and aerials — will be selected, so the pressure is building.

McIvor, defending Olympic moguls champion Jenn Heil and World Cup aerials champion Steve Omischl have so far qualified for Vancouver. And all three disciplines will be contested in Lake Placid.

If the reaction from Wednesday’s crowd at Blue Mountain is indication, ski cross could take off after Vancouver, where it makes its Games debut. Unlike traditional alpine racing, four skiers race at the same time in ski cross, with crashes and physical contact the order of the day.

The crowd in Blue Mountain responded enthusiastically to the event, even with the Canadian team faltering.


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