Solitude’s home-course advantage not enough for U.S. skicross racers
2019 FIS Skicross World Championships results:
1. Francois Place, France.
2. Brady Leman, Canada.
3. Kevin Drury, Canada.
4. Alex Fiva, Switzerland.
5. Jean Frederic Chapuis, France.
6. Johannes Aujesky, Austria.
7. Viktor Andersson, Sweden.
8. Filip Flisar, Slove, Slovenia.
9. Bastien Midol, France.
10. David Mobaerg, Sweden.
1. Marielle Thompson, Canada.
2. Franny Smith, Switzerland.
3. Alizee Baron, France.
4. Sanna Luedi, Switzerland.
5. Kelsey Serwa, Canada.
6. Brittany Phelan, Canada.
7. Nikol Kucerova, Czechoslovakia.
8. Mikayla Martin, Canada.
9. Sandra Naeslund, Sweden.
10. Lisa Andersson, Sweden.
The skicross competition was not one the U.S. was likely to medal in during the 2019 FIS World Championships, but losing on home turf is never comfortable or easy.
Out of the four U.S. athletes who competed in Saturday’s competition at Solitude Mountain Resort, Tyler Wallasch and Whitney Gardner performed the best.
Wallasch, 24 and a Junior Worlds winner, was eliminated in the quarterfinals, while Gardner, also 24, was eliminated in the round before the quarterfinals.
For Gardner, it was a particularly poignant loss. A sponsored Solitude athlete and Salt Lake resident for the past seven years, Gardner said she had been looking forward to competing on the resort’s Main Street run since Solitude was announced as a venue for the World Championships two and a half years ago.
“I’m pretty heartbroken,” Gardner said. “But I tried my very best and I fought like hell, and in a sport like this that’s all you can do.”
Gardner held second place in her heat of four competitors through most of the race, until Daniela Maier of Germany found room to take the inside line on a corner, and slipped in. The two were shoulder to shoulder through the turn, then Maier gained momentum and held her position until she crossed the finish line.
Gardner was visibly disappointed, but collected herself and waved to the crowd.
It was not her first time skiing against Maier, and she knew the race would be tough.
“We were up on the Europa Cup together, and I know she’s a really strong skier and I was fighting from the very start because she was on my tails the entire time,” Gardner said. “There was not even room for any tiny mistake. And I made a tiny mistake and it cost me.”
The applause from the crowd at the bottom helped dispel the disappointment of not making the finals.
“Just being here on Solitude and coming down to a corral of my friends and family, it lifts me right back up,” she said. “This race is a special race regardless of the result.”
The U.S. skicross team doesn’t receive funding from U.S. Ski and Snowboard (and it doesn’t have a designated place on the organization’s website).
Gardner wears several hats to pay for her racing career, including teaching yoga and holding a class at Rocksteady Bodyworks in Salt Lake.
Her teammate, Wallasch, has sponsorships that keep him racing, including the makers of the energy drink Rockstar.
Wallasch, the lone U.S. athlete fielded for the men’s competition, caught an edge going over a jump in the quarterfinals and nearly went off course. He recovered, but not in time to salvage his run.
“I tried to stay in it, but it just wasn’t enough.” he said. “It’s a really hard course to keep the lead on. If you’re in the front, it’s hard to stay in front. If you’re in the back, you know there’s a chance down to those last four feet of the course. … It was a lot of fun though, a lot of fun.”
The 24-year-old Mammoth, California, native said he and his teammates, including Tania Prymak and Leta McNatt, who were eliminated before reaching the quarterfinals, are all within a couple years of age, and are competing without the presence of any senior figures on the team, coaches notwithstanding.
“We’re just a bunch of kids trying to figure it out and learning on the go,” he said. “I think we’re all trying to find our way in this sport. Theres not a ton of guidance but we’re doing our best.”
Marielle Thompson of Canada won gold in the women’s competition, followed by Fanny Smith of Switzerland in second and Alizee Baron of France in third. Francois Place of France won the men’s competition, followed by Brady Leman of Canada, and Leman’s teammate, Kevin Drury.
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