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2010 Winter Olympics: McIvor claims a gold for Canada in skicross

Vancouver native earns a dominant win in own backyard

Ashleigh McIvor of Canada, center celebrates becoming Olympic champion with runner up, Hedda Berntsen of Norway, left and third placed, Marion Josserand of France, right,  in the women's skicross at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columb
Ashleigh McIvor of Canada, center celebrates becoming Olympic champion with runner up, Hedda Berntsen of Norway, left and third placed, Marion Josserand of France, right, in the women's skicross at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, Feb. 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill, AP

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Shredding powder. Dropping off cliffs. Chasing boys down the mountain. Had they awarded gold medals for those pursuits when she was a kid, Ashleigh McIvor figures she might already have a closet full of them.

Not surprisingly, then, McIvor is the first Olympic champion in women's skicross, the sport created to harness all that backcountry energy into a real competition.

The Whistler native who used to ski down the stairs into her parents living room persevered through a typical day of spills and chills on the skicross course Tuesday to help Canada take its sixth gold medal of the games.

"That's the beauty of skicross," she said. "It's ski racing in its most natural form. Who could go out and represent Canada better than a Whistler girl?"

Hedda Berntsen came in a distant second to McIvor in the final to make Norway the first country to win 300 winter medals, and Marion Josserand of France took bronze.

Canada, meanwhile, is up to six golds, two of which have been won on the same course at Cypress Mountain. McIvor's victory came one week after Maelle Ricker took gold in snowboardcross. Although some have wondered if the expectations that came with Canada's $110 million "Own the Podium" program have worn on the athletes, McIvor looks at it differently.

"I just tried to channel it into positive energy," she said. "Realizing that because we've had all this funding from OTP, we were so well-prepared for this event and the pressure was really just people who had a whole lot of high expectations for me. That just made me more confident."

McIvor used the most important strategy there is in skicross — get in front early and stay away from other people.

She never found herself in trouble over her four races, though plenty of others did on a typically wild day for the newest sport at the Olympics.

The day's very first race was followed by a 20-minute delay after Russia's Yulia Livinskaya had to be carted off when she lost her balance and landed hard on her backside after a jump at the top of the hill.

Not much later, Frenchwoman Ophelie David — the favorite who had beaten McIvor last month at the Winter X Games — lost her bearings heading into a jump, flailed her arms wildly to try to regain her balance, but fell hard into the snow and out of contention.

"I'm just so, so disappointed for the people who worked for me for a long time and who trusted me and support me," David said. "I feel so stupid and sad for that. For myself, it's OK."

Others had trouble managing the course when winter — yes, winter — finally set in at Cypress, which has been plagued by warm weather and rain through most of these Olympics.

Heavy, blowing snow slowed down the course and made the top two jumps, with their stair-step ledges, particularly difficult for the skiers. They had trouble gaining speed toward the bottom of the mountain, as well. The only race McIvor didn't win was the semifinal, where she let Berntsen pass her at the end as the two crept toward the finish.

In this event, though, the top two finishers from each of the races advance until only four are left for the final. That's where McIvor was at her best, clicking over the highly technical opening jumps, building a big lead halfway through the race and never looking back.

It's the best formula for victory in a sport where trouble lurks around every corner.

Some of the day's best action came in a quarterfinal race when Fanny Smith of Switzerland and Julia Murray of Canada jostled for position over a couple of jumps before Murray, still dealing with a recent knee injury, fell back.

There were scenes such as Spain's Rocio Delgado getting caught up, spread-eagle, over a jump, then face-planting herself at the bottom, but still able to take a bow of sorts after skidding across the finish line.

No such drama, though, for McIvor.

A few years ago, the 26-year-old wrote a college essay intended for the International Olympic Committee, lobbying for skicross' inclusion in the games.

A while after that, she became the first person to qualify for the Canadian Olympic skicross team.

Now, she's part of Canada's Olympic lore.

"Skicross is the newest form of ski racing, but in its essence, it's been around forever," she said. "It's racing your friends from the top of the mountain to the bottom. The IOC is really interested in keeping up with the next generation, and keeping the Olympics cool, and skicross is a great way to do that."