February 22nd, 2024

Canada’s Hannah Schmidt wins second straight World Cup ski cross gold at Nakiska

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on January 21, 2024.

Canada's Hannah Schmidt, left, Switzerland's Fanny Smith, centre, and Canada's India Sherret ski during the women's semifinal of a World Cup ski cross event at Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis, Alta., Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

NAKISKA, ALTA. – Hannah Schmidt doubled her World Cup ski cross victories at Nakiska Ski Resort on Sunday.

The 29-year-old from Ottawa parlayed powerful starts out of the gates and over the opening rollers to World Cup wins both Saturday and Sunday at the Alberta resort west of Calgary.

“I’m kind of speechless to be honest,” Schmidt said Sunday. “I wasn’t expecting it. I don’t think anyone expects to do it twice in a row. It’s hard racing out there. A good start means the world and I had good starts again today.”

Schmidt’s two victories – the second and third of her career – vaulted her into second in the season’s overall women’s World Cup standings behind Marielle Berger Sabbatel.

The Frenchwoman finished second Sunday behind Schmidt. Britt Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Que., placed third.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Sandra Naeslund of Sweden didn’t race Sunday. She limped out of the finish corral after her quarterfinal Saturday and withdrew. Naeslund dropped to third in the season’s rankings.

The host team accrued five medals over two days in the season’s lone Canadian stop on the World Cup ski cross circuit.

Reece Howden of Cultus Lake, B.C., claimed men’s gold Saturday and Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., finished second behind Schmidt in the women’s final.

But it was a rocky Sunday for the Canadian men as none made the final four. Schmidt’s younger brother Jared maintained his lead in the men’s overall standings, but he was eliminated in the quarterfinal after tangling with teammate Carson Cook for position and crashing.

“We feed off each other a lot and he was up at the start of that big final and he was like ‘Let’s go. You can do it,'” Hannah said. “We’re there for each other.”

The top two in each heat advanced through the men’s round of 32 and men’s and women’s quarterfinals and semifinals.

The skiers were more aggressive attempting passes Sunday than Saturday on Nakiska’s 1.2-kilometre track. Sunday’s races were held under partly sunny skies and a temperature just below freezing.

There were several bumps and spills in what’s known as the NASCAR of ski racing.

But Phelan, an Olympic silver medallist in 2018, cleanly executed passes in her semifinal to qualify and also in the women’s final to move from fourth into podium position.

“I told Hannah before our first heat ‘see you in the final’ and it was awesome,” Phelan said. “To get there wasn’t easy. Today, I had to battle in every run.”

She’s overcome a pair of knee injuries and a torn Achilles tendon over the last three years.

“The last four years through injury, every time I’ve come back and got onto the podium pretty quick,” Phelan said. “So that’s very validating and a bit relieving to know that it’s all still there. There’s still a ton of work to do. Hannah was on another level this race and all season too.”

Thompson was on the wrong end of a battle for position with Switzerland’s Fanny Smith in their Sunday semifinal. Thompson, the 2014 women’s Olympic gold medallist, recovered to handily win the “small final” for fifth place.

Edmonton’s Cook was on the verge of reaching his first men’s final this season, but clipped the ski of German front-runner Florian Wilmsmann heading into his semifinal’s last jump.

Cook spun horizontally in the air and landed on his stomach while Youri Duplessis Kergomard of France overtook him to advance.

Switzerland’s Jonas Lenherr was the men’s winner Sunday, ahead of runner-up Wilmsmann and Duplessis Kergomard in third. Cook was the top Canadian man in eighth.

“We’re always expecting podiums with this team and it’s sometimes disappointing when we don’t get at least one guy and one of the girls on the podium, but the girls had an unbelievable day,” Canadian coach Stan Hayer said. “Hannah is on fire.

“Home events are tricky. There’s a different energy. Off the hill, it’s a little bit more chaotic and it seems a little bit too much because when we’re in our own little bubble in Europe, we’re just a team travelling around.

“This is a pretty crazy sport so I’m glad we walked away with five podiums this weekend.”

Canada’s ski cross team heads to St. Moritz, Switzerland for the next World Cup on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2024.

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