Canadians sweep halfpipe titles at freestyle worlds

It's a Canadian sweep of the halfpipe titles at the freestyle world ski championships. Michael Riddle of Squamish, B.C, won the men's crown while Rosalind Groenewoud of Calgary won the women's event Saturday. Keltie Hansen of Edmonton joined Groenewoud on the podium by claiming bronze.

Riddle and Groenewoud top the field at Park City

Amid gusty winds and icy conditions, and under the watchful eyes of International Olympic Committee officials, the Canadian halfpipe team came up big at the freestyle world ski championships.

Michael Riddle of Squamish, B.C, won the men's crown and Rosalind Groenewoud of Calgary won the women's event Saturday, while Keltie Hansen of Edmonton added a bronze to give Canada 12 medals at the competition.

They were unfazed by both the difficult weather, and the knowledge that the IOC would use the day's performances in their evaluation of the sport's viability for the 2014 Olympics.

And they were left with plenty to feel good about.

"It's a pretty cool thing, it's a very prestigious title, it still hasn't sunk in completely," Riddle said of becoming a world champion. "It's also a very exciting time in our sport with the push for the Olympics and we're looking to be included in the next couple of months.

"Being the current world champion when we get that announcement, I can't even comprehend it right now. It's a huge thing, I could not be more excited."

Groenewoud, who now lives in Squamish and studies at Quest University there, was similarly chuffed.

She felt the athletes, even while dialing down some of their tricks because of the weather, still "showed the IOC what an exciting event this is."

She overcame some personal demons, too.

Nearly two years to the day, Groenewoud crashed doing a 2 1-2 revolution, or 900, jump on the same course, suffering a concussion. She missed a month with post-concussion syndrome and had to get past some mental hurdles in competing at the same venue again for the first time.

"Definitely," she said. "I didn't end up doing my 900 in qualifications because I got scared and so I knew I had to come out here today and do it. I didn't do it in training because of the weather and I was nervous because I did it for the first time in my final run, so I was really happy that it went well to get over that mental block."

Groenewoud was solid on both runs, capturing the win with 44.7 points on her final run. American Jennifer Hudak earned the top qualifying spot in the final, but had to recover from a fall on her first run to claim silver with a score of 42.1 on her second.

Hansen earned bronze off a first-run score of 38.8.

"My first run went pretty clean," she said. "I didn't go as big as I would have like to because of the weather but everything was landed pretty clean, I think."

Riddle was the top qualifier going into the men's final and clinched first with 45.6 points on his first run. Kevin Rolland of France took silver by scoring 45.2 points on his second run and Simon Dumont of the U.S. earned 43.2 points on his first run to claim bronze.

Riddle performed as he planned despite wind gusts that hit about 40 km/h, but maybe didn't get as much air as he would normally.

"The conditions today were definitely a little trying," he said.

Asked to describe the weather, Canadian coach Trennon Paynter said, "There were moments when it felt like we were in a typhoon."

In the backdrop of the competition was that Canadian IOC representative Walter Sieber, part of the program commission, was there to prepare an assessment of the sport for his colleagues.

Peter Judge, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association's CEO, spent some time lobbying Sieber and is eagerly awaiting a decision expected in April.

"His comments were that he was very impressed with the athletes and with what they were able to do," Judge relayed. "I can be guardedly optimistic about his comments, he has to provide his report now to the IOC and I think the athletes did a great job and represented their sport tremendously."

The Canadian team has also performed beyond expectations with six gold medals, three silvers and three bronzes.

On Friday, Kelsey Serwa captured the women's ski cross event ahead of Julia Murray of Whistler, B.C., while Chris Del Bosco of Sudbury, Ont., won the men's ski cross and Warren Shouldice of Calgary claimed gold in men's aerials.

On Thursday, Kaya Turski of Montreal captured silver in the women's slopestyle.

And Wednesday, Jennifer Heil of Spruce Grove, Alta., won the women's moguls title with Kristi Richards of Summerland, B.C., grabbing bronze, while Alexandre Bilodeau of Montreal grabbed silver in the men's moguls with Mikael Kingsbury of Deux-Montagnes, Que., taking bronze.

Groenewoud was pleased to keep it going.

"I'm definitely a proud Canadian and I'm happy with how well the Canadian team has done at this event," she said. "I've been keeping a tally on Canadian medals throughout this whole event and I was pretty excited each time a team member was on the podium."