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Serwa, Phelan continue Canada's dominance of women's ski cross

Women's ski cross has now been contested at three Olympics since it first debuted in 2010. Canada has won the...

Posted: Feb 23, 2018 5:26 AM
Updated: Feb 23, 2018 5:26 AM

Women's ski cross has now been contested at three Olympics since it first debuted in 2010.

Canada has won the gold medal all three times.

It started with Ashleigh McIvor in 2010, then continued with Marielle Thompson in 2014. Today it was Kelsey Serwa etching her name into the history books with another Canadian ski cross gold.

Serwa, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist, beat out a stacked field of women in the big final to claim the victory. Her teammate, Brittany Phelan, finished second to also give Canada a silver medal.

Heading into the finals, Team Canada had reason for optimism after posting the three fastest times of the seeding round.

It also looked like an incredible comeback story could be in the works, as reigning Olympic champion Marielle Thompson had the top seeding time — despite the fact that she tore her ACL and MCL just four months ago and had not competed since.

But then the racing started, and the dreams of a gold medal defense were over in about 10 seconds.

The opening round of competition featured a series of heat races with three skiers on the course at a time (all later rounds had four skiers at a time). The top two finishers from each of those races would move on to the quarterfinals.

Thompson was in the day's very first heat. She didn't get a great start and came out of the holeshot in third place. All three skiers went off a jump and on the landing, Thompson's skis made contact with another racer's skis and she lost her balance. Thompson went down, leaving the other two racers clear to head down the course and claim their spots in the next round.

After Thompson's early exit, it was up to Serwa and Phelan to pick up the slack. Both skiers cruised through their first two rounds of racing before ending up head-to-head in the semifinals. Phelan actually beat Serwa in that race, but since the top two skiers advanced, they both made it into the big final.

In the big final, the Canadian duo was lined up against 2013 world champion Fanny Smith of Switzerland and 2017 world champion Sandra Naeslund of Sweden.

Ever since Thompson went down with her knee injury, Naeslund has taken over as the most dominant athlete in the sport. She has won six of eight World Cup races this season and currently leads the rankings by a large margin.

The Canadians would not be denied though.

Serwa used a good start to get herself in front of the other skiers and was able to maintain the lead throughout the rest of race. As for Phelan, she found herself in fourth place in the early going and had to work her way past Naeslund and Smith to move into second.

Serwa and Phelan — who also serve as "wacky workout" training partners — then crossed the line in the top two spots to claim the gold and silver medals. Behind them, Smith edged out Naselund to capture the bronze medal.

"I looked back [before crossing the finish line] and I saw Britt there and it was the best moment of my life," Serwa said.

Serwa was also part of a 1-2 finish at the Sochi Olympics, where she finished behind Thompson. But getting back to this point was a challenge for her, she said.

"It's been a long four years for me in between," Serwa said. "Definitely a lot of ups and downs. Had to take some time off, went back to school, had another surgery. It's been a tedious process a bit, but everyone believed in me the whole way. I put everything into this and I couldn't do any better."

Phelan also competed at the last Olympics, but as an Alpine skier. (She finished 15th in slalom.) She made the switch to ski cross in 2015.

"It was a big leap of faith [changing disciplines] and so happy it all worked out and everything," Phelan said. "It's been so fun and this whole season has been amazing just traveling the world with my best friend [Serwa]. Getting to race at the Olympics and be on the podium together, it's absolutely amazing."

While it was nothing but good vibes between the top finishers, the same could not be said of the other two racers in the final.

According to Naeslund, getting pushed by Smith is what cost her a chance at a medal.

"I was coming on the outside and just when we came side-to-side [Smith] put her elbow out and stopped me," Naeslund said. "I got angry. I don't know what I was thinking and then I started doing the same unfair stuff to her, so I wasn't any better. I was going for the gold and now I am here with the fourth place, so of course it is hard to take."

Smith acknowledged that there was contact between the two racers but said Naeslund was just as much as fault.

"I would have been in the first place if she had not pushed me," Smith said. "I am sorry for her."


Gold: Kelsey Serwa (CAN)
Silver: Brittany Phelan (CAN)
Bronze: Fanny Smith (SUI)

4. Sandra Naeslund (SWE)
5. Alizee Baron (FRA)
6. Lisa Andersson (SWE)
7. Sanna Luedi (SUI)
8. Sami Kennedy-Sim (AUS)

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