Duncan's X-treme finish a real high

SKI CROSS: David Duncan sixth London-area athlete on Olympic team

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

Little more than a week ago, Dave Duncan stood on top of Whiteface Mountain at Lake Placid, N.Y.

It was his last chance to become one of the final Canadian athletes to make it to the Olympics in Vancouver.

This is a sport -- ski cross -- where crashing is as common as NASCAR and one wrong move means game over.

And this is under the Freestyle Canada umbrella with a complex qualifying points system. As he waited, Duncan knew it would be either him or aerialist Olivier Rochon, a skier in a totally different discipline, wearing Canada's colours.

"I like stats," the 27-year-old Londoner said. "I had a whole spreadsheet made up. I like knowing the situation and when I got to Lake Placid, I knew I had to get through the semifinals (finish at least fifth overall) to make it."

And on the most dramatic and pressure-filled day in a sport with almost no margin for error, he did it.

Duncan became the sixth London and area athlete on this Canadian Olympic team, along with hockey players Joe Thornton (St. Thomas) and Drew Doughty, ice dance stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Ilderton) and Christine Nesbitt, one of the world's top women's speed skaters.

He finished on the podium -- third -- at the most critical time.

"We were on snowmobiles going back up (the hill) and there was a moment where I kind of shed a tear," Duncan said. "This is something I wanted my whole life. It's been a dream for a long time. But there were time constraints, I had to race in the final, so I didn't have a lot of time to reflect on it."

He will now.

In the city where the U.S. men's hockey team performed the Miracle on Ice 30 years ago, Duncan pulled off his own Miracle on Skis. The kid who went from London's tiny Boler Mountain to a national ski academy in Collingwood to the University of Alaska-Anchorage alpine team and to falling in love with a new Winter X-Games sport that many believe will capture the imagination of many who watch these Olympics.

"I understand why people feel that way," Duncan said. "The feedback I always get from those who see ski cross for the first time is they think it's great.

"In (downhill), unless you're really into it, it looks like the same thing (one person going down the hill at a time).

"But in this, whoever crosses the finish line first, wins, and for an hour-and-a-half, it's non-stop action."

For many, just making the Canadian Olympic team is enough. Not in ski cross.

This past weekend, Canada swept the podium at ESPN's X Games in Aspen, Col., with Duncan second behind Sudbury's Chris Del Bosco, the Olympic gold favourite. There's no reason the Londoner, who resides and trains in Golden, B.C., can't bag a medal, too.

"The last year-and-a-half, I've felt that way . . . it was a little more like I was telling myself so I would believe it.

"Now, I know I can do it. The COC (Canadian Olympic Committee) has our (men's and women's) team down to win two medals, but I know we'll all be disappointed if it's not more."

The first Olympic men's ski cross event will be held Feb. 21 at Cypress Mountain, which has made organizers nervous because of a shortage of snow.

"I know the X Games is the biggest and gnarliest courses we see, but the Olympics is a whole other thing.

"I'm looking forward to being there."

Ryan Pyette is a Free Press sports reporter.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

POLL