Canada's McIvor wins skicross gold
'This is where I want to be right now,' Whistler athlete says
Ashleigh McIvor stood on Cypress Mountain, one race away from standing on top of the world.
Moments later, the 26-year-old from Whistler, B.C., was crossing the finish line into "the most amazing moment," becoming the first Olympic champion in women's skicross as the sport made its debut at the Vancouver Games.
She finished ahead of Norway's Hedda Berntsen, who took the silver. France's Marion Josserand won the bronze.
"I was just standing in the start gate, thinking everything that's happened in my life, up until this point, has been leading to here," McIvor told CTV. "And this is where I want to be right now."
It was no surprise that McIvor was in the skicross final at the Vancouver Olympics. She's the defending 2009 world champion and No. 2 in World Cup standings heading into the Games.
But nothing is ever certain at the Olympics, especially not for Canada. In the men's skicross event on Sunday, Canada's Chris Del Bosco was in position for a bronze medal, but fell trying to move ahead on a jump before the finish line.
After the race, a dejected Del Bosco skied into teammate McIvor's arms — there are media reports the two are dating. Without doubt, she felt the agony of his defeat.
Canada a podium favourite
On Tuesday, McIvor threw her arms in the air as the roaring cheers at Cypress Mountain sang a sweet song of victory.
"I was just so proud of myself to come here ready to race," McIvor said. " I felt like there was nothing more I could have done to be better equipped to have come here — and it worked out, and I can't believe it!"
Canada entered Tuesday's event as a podium favourite. Along with McIvor, the team boasted two future stars in Kelsey Serwa, 20, and Julia Murray, 21.
Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C., was ranked No. 3 in World Cup standings heading to Vancouver. She was narrowly edged out by Josserand for a spot in the final, but went on to win the consolation final, and finished fifth overall.
Serwa was the 2009 FIS rookie of the year and has two World Cup victories under this season.
Whistler's Julia Murray fought hard to catch Switzerland's Fanny Smith in her quarter-final run. She tried to make several passes, but was unable to grab a spot in the semifinals.
Murray, daughter of the late alpine skier Dave Murray of the Crazy Canucks, had battled back from knee injury in January that almost kept her from her dream of racing in the Olympics as her father did. She was ranked No. 4 in World Cup standings heading into the Olympics.
"My knee did things I did not think it could do, and it hurt quite a bit," she told CTV after her race.
It was an inspiring Olympic debut for Murray and Serwa, who will battle with the best in the blossoming sport for years to come.
Another promising Canuck, Calgary's Danielle Polsechuk, narrowly avoided a collision in the qualifications before the quarter-finals. Germany's Anna Woerner fell in front of Polsechuk, and the 24-year-old swerved to avoid a crash, but lost her balance and tumbled into the snow.
Races on the 'wild side'
France's Ophelie David, ranked No.1 in World Cup standings, fell in the quarter-finals and was knocked out of contention, leaving the hill open for McIvor to take gold.
McIvor has hoped the debut of skicross in the Olympics would help build a fan base to increase the sport's profile in Canada. Like many skicross athletes, she started her career as an alpine skier, but broke her leg when she was 16 and got "burnt out" with the alpine scene. She switched to skicross in 2002.
"It's the purest, most-natural form of ski racing," McIvor told CBCSports.ca at a World Cup event in Collingwood, Ont., in January. And for McIvor, who grew up "playing with the boys" and is an avid surfer when she's not on the slopes battling her way to the bottom, the adrenaline-filled sport is a perfect fit.
"You kind of need to have this wild side that most of us have," McIvor said. "We like adrenaline and we like to send ourself off cliffs, and over jumps and stuff like that."
On Tuesday McIvor's eyes overflowed with joy as she jumped on the podium, throwing her arms in the air as Olympic champion.
The snow danced around Canada's skicross queen, and the nation celebrated its fifth Olympic medal from Cypress Mountain.
"I just felt like I was made for this event — it's in my hometown pretty much," McIvor told CTV after the race. "You know, what more could I ask for?"
With files from Lindsey Craig