SOCHI, RUSSIA - Canada captured gold and silver in women’s ski cross on Friday as Marielle Thompson of North Vancouver and Kelsey Serwa of Kelowna, B.C. finished 1-2 at the Olympic Snowboard Park.
Under foggy conditions, the Canadians blasted out of the gate side-by-side in the final and took an early lead. Thompson then moved ahead of Serwa mid-way through the course and by then it was just a matter of the two Canadians holding for gold and silver.
“We’re all about girl power from the start,” said Thompson, of the bond on the Canadian team. “We’re just having fun all day. I know Kelsey and we tried to help each other all the way down the course.”
Anna Holmlund of Sweden took the bronze. Ophelie David of France crashed midway down the course and finished fourth.
“It’s crazy. I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet. I just had a big wave of emotion,” said Thompson. “I’m so so happy, especially to be up there with Kelsey, my teammate.”
Thompson, 21, had won two World Cup races this season — at Nakiska, AB and Val Thorens, France — and had landed on the podium on two other occasions.
Her parents were both ski instructors and she began skiing at two before taking up ski cross at 16 after becoming bored with alpine skiing.
She dedicated her silver medal at the 2013 world championships in Voss, Norway to former national team teammate and friend Nik Zoricic of Toronto, who died at a World Cup event in Grindelwald, Switzerland in March 2012.
Serwa, 24, finished fifth at the 2010 Vancouver Games and won the 2011 world championship in Deer Valley, Utah. She had failed to land on top of the podium on the World Cup circuit this season, though she has a second place finish from San Candido, Italy. Her silver medal is a testament to her guts and perseverance. Up until 2010, she had suffered a series of (minor) injuries, including a broken wrist, a fractured and bruised heel, bruised ribs, a bruised lung and a concussion. At the 2011 Winter X Games in Aspen, she injured her back, thumb and ribs after crashing at the line, though she still won the event. In January, 2012, she ruptured the ACL in her left knee at a World Cup race in Alpe d’Huez, France. In March 2013, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, the same knee she injured a year before while training in Norway.
Serwa’s grandfather Cliff co-founded the Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna in the 1960s and she began skiing at the Big White Racers Club in Kelowna when her father had done some work on the new club cabin and wasn’t paid for the job. A deal was struck where the club offered a free year in the Nancy Greene skiing program for Serwa and her siblings to compensate for the cost of construction.
At the end of the 2007/08 alpine season, Serwa was told that the inaugural national ski cross championship was being held in Rossland, B.C. Serwa booked a flight, arrived in time to race and finished second.
“Not bad for a first attempt, but ski cross is full-out outcasts from alpine,” she said. “Alpine is so strict on rules. Ski cross is more relaxed, for free spirits or people looking for something more exciting than racing the clock.”
Serwa found herself in fourth early in the first semi, but stormed back to pass Katrin Ofner of Austria at the finish to place second and qualify for the final.
In the second semi, Thompson got out of the gate second but quickly took the lead and held on easily for first.
Canada now has four gold medals in freestyle skiing at the Sochi Olympics. Ladies ski cross was the third freestyle skiing 1-2 for Canada at the Sochi Games, having previously won gold and silver in the men’s moguls and ladies moguls.