Squamish resident Maëlle Ricker is officially heading to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but she might have been one of the last to know.
Ricker qualified for the 22nd edition of the Games by winning snowboardcross gold at the FIS World Championships in Stoneham, Que., on Saturday (Jan. 26), but she told The Chief she didn’t really know until well after her victory.
“I didn’t look too closely at the qualifying rules and standards,” she told The Chief in a telephone interview on Monday (Jan. 28). “But I was told yesterday [Jan. 27] that I secured my spot with the win. It’s definitely a huge weight off my shoulders and allows me to focus on getting all the little things dialled in mentally and physically in the next 13 months.”
After qualifying first, Ricker was able to maintain her lead throughout the final to take home the gold. She said she felt comfortable on the Stoneham course.
“I think the course suited my strengths,” she said. “We worked a lot on our jumping techniques in our training camp and the first part of the course is a series of six jumps leading into the first corner, so it’s really important to make those landings, but at the same time not go so high up that you’re wasting your time in the air.”
She said getting a good start was crucial to her win.
“The key was getting the lead early in the race and being able to control the pace the rest of the way down,” she said. “My game plan was to get out front early and stay there — luckily it worked.”
Ricker edged teammate Dominique Maltais in the final and said it was nice for the Canadian women to dominate the podium.
“It’s super cool, but I could feel her on my shoulder almost the whole race,” she said, noting she tried to keep about a board-length edge on Maltais. “I would have loved to see the guys on the podium as well, but it’s awesome that we were able to take the top two spots in the women’s event.”
She added that the support from the Snowboard Canada team has aided her this season.
“So much is going into the team this year,” she said. “From the top all the way down. We have everything we need in place and it’s a nice environment to succeed. They gave me a great opportunity to get on the podium this weekend.”
On the men's side, Australia’s Alex Pullin won the gold medal. Austria’s Markus Schairer finished second and Norway’s Stian Sivertzen rounded out the podium in third.?Rob Fagan of Squamish was the top-performing Canadian in the men's field, finishing in eighth place.
“It’s definitely not what I was coming here for,” Fagan said. “A couple things happened in the semifinals. I’m not super happy, but I’m satisfied. I was in third, but it’s not really the place you want to be with those guys and I tried to pass Pierre Vaultier and he put me to the gate and I kind of slowed down, which cost me my spot.”
Next up for Ricker and the rest of the Team Canada snowboardcross team will be an event at Blue Mountain, Ont. on Friday and Saturday (Feb. 1 and 2).