Reuters - Wed, 17 Feb 04:33:00 2010
Maelle Ricker thrilled a rowdy hometown crowd and easily won the women's Olympic snowboard cross title, bagging the first gold for a Canadian woman on home soil.
A day after an US snowboarder Seth Wescott stole the gold from Canadian Mike Robertson in the final jump of the men's cross, Ricker turned the tables on favourite Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States.
Jacobellis, the silver medallist in Turin who missed winning gold in 2006 when she fell making a showboat move near the finish line, was knocked out in the semi-final when she lost her balance as she jockeyed for the lead with Ricker.
In the final race Ricker blasted out of the start and took control early, racing unchallenged as she flew over the last jump and sailing across the finish line to secure Canada's second gold of the Games.
She was far ahead of France's Deborah Anthonioz who took the silver and Olivia Nobs of Switzerland who slipped up but got back on course to claim the bronze.
Ricker spun on her snowboard to face the crowd and pumped her arms in victory to the delight of the flag-waving, cheering fans who had waited through a two-hour delay in competition because of heavy rain and fog.
The north Vancouver native, who fell in her first qualifying run, got herself under control the rest of the day, winning her quarter-final and the semi-final.
"That first run was a disaster," Ricker said. "But I went back up to the start, I refocused, I visualised. Just thought about my lines and threw down a solid run and stayed on my feet and stayed balanced."
Though many of the riders said the course was very difficult in part due to the heavy rain overnight, Ricker said she was happy when she woke up and saw thick fog and rain.
"I absolutely love that weather," said Ricker, who grew up on the West coast and is used to warm conditions. "When I woke up this morning and saw the rain and fog it put a huge smile on my face."
The technically challenging course took a lot of victims, including Turin bronze medallist Dominique Maltais who fell in both qualifying runs and failed to make the quarter-finals.
Jacobellis described the snow as soft as "mashed potatoes" in parts and said she was "pretty close" to Ricker right from the start of the semi-final but lost her balance after a bad landing on one of the early jumps.
"It's definitely not the end of the world for me," said Jacobellis, who had hoped to win gold and silence the critics who said she lost the gold in Turin because she was showing off.
"It's unfortunate that most of the world just sees this race and four years ago."
Britain's Zoe Gillings was doing her best to accentuate the positive as she hobbled away from Cypress Mountain.
A heavy fall during qualification ultimately put pay to her ambitions. She went through the pain to advance through the semi-finals but finished a distant third in her semi-final, placing eighth overall.
"I feel pretty sore now," admitted Gillings.
"Qualifying went well although the conditions were pretty tough with the fog.
"My first run was great but I crashed pretty badly on my second run and hurt my left knee.
"I could get around the corners but I couldn't push into them to generate my speed and only adrenaline got me through.
"I'm happy with eighth place, I came here for a medal but I tried my best and I'm looking forward to the future."
Ricker was the only Canadian who made it through the qualifying round after team-mate and defending bronze medallist Dominique Maltais crashed in both her runs and failed to make it to the quarter-finals.
Factbox on Ricker:
Place of birth: North Vancouver, Canada
Residence: Squamish, Canada
Previous Olympic results:
Fourth, 2006 Winter Olympics, snowboard cross
23rd, 2006 Winter Olympics, halfpipe
Career achievements: Bronze medallist, 2005 World Championships, snowboard cross
Champion, 2007/08 World Cup, snowboard cross
Ricker began snowboarding in 1993 when she was converted from a ski racer to the 'uni-board' by her older brother Jorli, a competitive snowboarder.
She missed two years of major competitions after twice seriously damaging her knee in 1999.
The 31-year-old Vancouver local is this season's current overall World Cup leader.
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