Canada's Brady Leman misses big final in Olympic ski cross title defence

Canada's Brady Leman, the defending Olympic champion, was eliminated in the semifinals of men's ski cross on Friday in Beijing. Switzerland's Ryan Regez would go on to take gold.

Calgary native top Canadian in 6th; Ryan Regez of Switzerland wins gold medal

Brady Leman, left, crosses the finish line just ahead of fellow Canadian Reece Howden, right, in the men's ski cross quarter-finals on Friday at the Beijing Olympics. Leman was later eliminated in the semis as Canada was shut out of the podium. (Lisi Niesner/Reuters)

Canada's Brady Leman was eliminated in the semifinals of men's ski cross at the Beijing Olympics.

Leman, 35, won gold in the event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

"It stings, but at the same time I'm still an Olympic champion at the end of the race," he said.

The Calgary native was the lone Canadian of four in the field on Friday to advance past the quarter-finals. But he placed last in his semifinal heat after sitting second midway through the race, knocking him out of medal contention.

Leman would go on to place sixth overall after speeding to second in the small final.

"I thought I had enough gap that I could push on the skis all the way through the turn and accelerate and make a pass at the finish like I've been doing," he said of his semifinal heat.

"Unfortunately, I caught them just two metres too soon and I skied on [Italy's Simone Deromedis'] tails and slowed us both down and that's racing sometimes."

WATCH | Leman featured in CBC Sports' 'Returning Champions' series:

Returning Champions: Brady Leman

11 months ago
Duration 3:48
Canadian ski cross athlete Brady Leman reflects on his journey to winning an Olympic gold medal in PyeongChang and his outlook heading into the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Switzerland's Ryan Regez and Alex Fiva won gold and silver to take the top two spots on the podium. Russian Olympic Committee athlete Sergey Ridzik emerged with his second consecutive bronze medal.

"It's kind of incredible. The whole week of training, I've been so nervous and had so much pressure on myself because everyone was expecting me to come here and win — well, and I did," Regez said, laughing.

It was a battle for Leman to even reach the semis after a tight quarter-final race alongside fellow Canadian Reece Howden. While Ridzik surged to a lead, the Canadians battled for the second and final qualifying spot.

Leman and Howden, the 23-year-old from Cultus Lake, B.C., traded places in second and third throughout the race, but the veteran managed to find an edge at the bottom of the track and outstretched his teammate at the line in a photo finish.

For Leman, the battle really began well before Beijing. He suffered a knee injury last February just one year after a bike crash left him with five broken ribs, among other ailments.

"I'd have loved to follow up a medal or win again, but I'm really proud of this race," he said. "I've had such a difficult last two years, with so many injuries and so many obstacles, and there were so many moments when I didn't think I'd have a chance to defend that medal and I did."

Toronto's Kevin Drury, 33, suffered the same fate as Howden as he too was eliminated on a photo finish in the quarters. Ottawa native Jared Schmidt, 24, was ousted in the same round after placing third in his heat.

It made for the first time since the sport was added to the Olympics in 2010 that no Canadian raced for a medal. Leman's gold remains the country's lone podium appearance in the men's version of the event. He also placed fourth at Sochi 2014.

Canada will still leave Beijing with one ski-cross medal after Marielle Thompson soared to silver in the women's race on Thursday.

WATCH | Thompson scores ski-cross silver:

British Columbia's Marielle Thompson rallies to Olympic ski cross silver medal

9 months ago
Duration 13:23
Marielle Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., skied to a silver medal in women's ski cross at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. It's Canada's 20th medal in Beijing.

The men looked like they may have had a shot to add to that total after Leman, Howden and Schmidt placed fourth, fifth and sixth in seeding races. 

Leman also scored his only medal of the World Cup season on the same track at Genting Snow Park in November.

Howden, meanwhile, was the 2021 World Cup Crystal Globe winner while Drury took the title the season prior.

But none were able to convert that prior success into a spot on the podium.

WATCH | Full replay of men's ski cross knockout rounds:

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