(AP Photo / Mark Schiefelbein)
It was a great day in Innichen, Italy to witness some excellent ski cross action at the third FIS Ski Cross World Cup of the season. Olympic silver medalist Brittany Phelan and Reece Howden won a pair of bronze medals as Canada continues to race through the Alps on the final leg before the holidays during a tight World Cup schedule.
In the women’s grand final, Olympic silver medalist Brittany Phelan and her current rivals, Switzerland’s Fanny Smith and Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund, entered the starting grid. Marielle Berger-Sabbatel from France crashed in the semi-final and was unable to participate, leaving the grand final with three athletes instead of four.
World champion Naeslund was quick from the start gate, taking the lead early and creating a significant 0.71 second gap in second split with Smith behind and Phelan in third. The battle for second place was close between Phelan and Smith. Phelan almost managed to pass the Swiss on the final corner, but Smith was able to get the kicker faster and held on to the lead, as the two fought until the very end of the course. The end result was a victory for Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund with a wide margin of 2.14 seconds. Phelan was edged out in the bronze medal position by just 0.02 seconds, placing Fanny Smith on the second step of the podium.
This is the second podium of the season for Phelan. Earlier this month, she skied to a silver medal in Val Thorens, Italy.
2014 Olympic champion Marielle Thompson finished first in the women’s small final, taking fifth place overall. Earlier this week, Thompson won a gold medal at the World Cup in Arosa, Switzerland. She has been on two podiums this season.
In the men’s grand final, Reece Howden also won the bronze medal. The Swiss Ryan Regez took the lead from the start with the French Bastien Midol and Howden just behind. The Swiss athlete appeared to pick the right lines in every element of the course, but Midol was on his heels, trying to pass. Austria’s Tristan Takats was fourth, but managed to pass Howden for a while before crashing into a corner and Howden was back in third.
It was a very close finish, the Swiss generated more speed and crossed the finish line in first position followed by Midol in second and Howden on the third step of the podium. This is Howden’s first individual World Cup podium of the season. In Arosa, Switzerland, he won a silver medal in the ski cross team.
His compatriot Kevin Drury won first place in the men’s small final, finishing fifth overall.
READ: Heading to the hills to train with Team Canada snowboard cross athletes
It has been an intense program for ski cross athletes so far with four races in the past nine days, one today and another chance for a podium finish on Monday. Ski cross athletes are challenged for their performance just before the holidays. After the holidays, everyone will meet in Nakiska, Alta., For the final World Cup events which will count towards Olympic qualification on January 14 and 15. The athletes will fight for Olympic qualification until its deadline on January 16, 2022..