SPORTS

Olympic, Crystal Globe skicross champion Thompson still has a lot to prove

12/03/2014 01:37 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Following what some are calling a "dream season," Marielle Thompson believes she still has much more to prove.

After winning gold in women's ski cross at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Thompson went on to capture her second Crystal Globe as the overall World Cup champion.

"It was kind of — people have been saying — the dream season," said Thompson, 22, from Whistler, B.C.

Thompson will begin defence of her title this weekend at the season-opening Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup at Nakiska Ski Area outside of Calgary.

"I'm just trying to build on the momentum from last year," she said. "I'm pretty young and I feel like I'm still building on my skiing and improving."

While Thompson won World Cup titles in 2012 and again last year, she has set her sights on winning gold at the 2015 world championship in Kreischberg, Austria in late January. She still remembers finishing second behind Swiss skier Fanny Smith at the 2013 worlds in Voss, Norway.

"I still have things to do," said Thompson, who beat Smith in the final World Cup race of the season last year to capture her second Crystal Globe. "It was pretty tight, but I finished with the win. It was pretty exciting because that last final heat, if she beat me, she won the overall and if I beat her, I won the overall."

Thompson began her season last year with a World Cup win at Nakiska as she finished ahead of Smith and French veteran Ophelie David.

"Last year I started off really well with a win at Nakiska, so I hope I can make that happen again," said Thompson, who should be once again challenged by Smith and David. "The course was really fun last year and it's the same guys building it, so I'm sure it will be awesome again."

Both the women's and men's qualification runs will take place at Nakiska on Friday.

"I think I get more nervous for qualifying than for racing because if you don't qualify well, you're not in the races," Thompson said.

The top 16 women and top 32 men will move onto Saturday's elimination heats, which will feature four skiers racing each other down a course of jumps and bumps. The top two skiers advance to the next heat while the other two are eliminated.

"You've got to just be ready to race and lay it all on the line right away," said Calgary's Brady Leman, 28, who wants to improve on his third-place showing at Nakiska last year. "Last year was the dream season for Marielle. It was the season that almost was for me.

"I made more medal finals than anyone else. I just had a combination of really bad luck and bad performances in the medal finals. That kind of made for a so-so season."

Agonizingly, Leman finished just out of the medals in fourth place in Sochi.

"Every other person in the race will trade you for fourth, but at the same time it's like you're the one guy in that round that doesn't get a medal," he said. "That really sucks."

The unknown aspect of what will happen when four skiers race side-by-side is also what makes ski cross such an exciting sport for fans to watch, Leman said.

"Everyone has a chance and how good your chance is depends on what you've done and how good of a chance you give yourself in terms of your training and preparation," he said. "That also doesn't change that you might just get a pole between your legs or something like that in the first round and your day is over."

Being able to race so close to his hometown is an added bonus for Leman.

"It's super cool for me because it's home," he said. "It's 45 minutes to an hour from the city. All my friends and family get to come up and watch."

Leman added that spectators who make the jaunt out to Nakiska will be impressed with how much they'll be able to see from the bottom of the hill.

"There's a great view from the finish at Nakiska," he said. "You can see the last jump - which is really big - coming into the straightaway. There's a big screen at the bottom to show the whole run, so you can look up at the screen and see what's going on and then turn around and see the finish live. It's usually a pretty good atmosphere."

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