NAKISKA, Alta. — The battle for spots on Canada’s Olympic ski cross team culminates on home snow at Nakiska Ski Resort.
The final World Cup before the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is the last chance for athletes from Canada and other countries to book their Olympic berths.
Friday’s qualifying runs will be followed by Saturday’s head-to-head rounds at the resort west of Calgary.
“It’s basically the last opportunity for me to lock it down, lock down the Olympic spot instead of being in that position where I’m watching what others are doing,” Dave Duncan of London, Ont., said Thursday after training.
“Canadian freestyle is so deep that if you want to lock yourself in, you need podiums. If you don’t get podiums, you start watching what’s going on around you.”
Canada is guaranteed a minimum of five ski cross racers in Pyeongchang, but could have as many as eight — four per gender.
The ski cross team will be unveiled Monday in Calgary.
Canada is ocean deep in freestyle talent, but is limited to 30 Olympians across the five disciplines of ski cross, moguls, aerials, slopestyle and halfpipe.
So ski cross athletes on the bubble for Olympic berths are not only competing against their teammates for them, but also against moguls skiers and aerialists to go to Pyeongchang.
Defending Olympic women’s ski cross champion Marielle Thompson is a wild card for the women’s team. The 25-year-old from Whistler, B.C., has yet to race this season and won’t in Nakiska.
She ruptured ligaments in her knee while training and underwent surgery in October.
“I’ve been working hard with my rehabilitation, beginning in the gym and working my way towards getting back on snow,” Thompson said Thursday in an audio statement from Alpine Canada.
“My team and I have been taking the recovery process day by day, adjusting as necessary as my knee progresses.
“We are all very happy with my progress at this stage. I’m confident in my plan and at this point, there are no guarantees, but I hope to have a chance to compete at the Olympics.”
Canada has four other women ranked in the top 10 of the World Cup standings: Vancouver’s Georgia Simmerling (fourth), Brittany Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Que. (sixth) Kelsey Serwa of Kelowna, B.C. (seventh) and India Sherret of Cranbrook B.C. (10th).
“For sure there’s a lot on the line,” said Serwa, who won an Olympic silver medal behind Thompson in 2014.
“You can sense it with all the races we’ve had this year. There’s a little bit more tension because people need to make certain criteria and of course that adds a little stress.
“Of course, there’s going to be stress at the Games too, so it’s good practice in that sense too being able to perform under pressure.”
Sherret, 21, earned her first career World Cup medal — a bronze — on Saturday in Idre Fjall, Sweden.
“It gives me some confidence and momentum to know that I’m there,” she said. “I’m really hoping for a top eight this weekend. That would put me in a really good spot to be selected to the Olympic team.”
Montreal’s Chris Del Bosco, winner of the season-opening World Cup, and Calgary’s Brady Leman headline the men’s team.
Duncan, Toronto’s Kevin Drury, Ian Deans of Lake Country, B.C., and Mathieu Leduc of Comox, B.C., are in the Olympic mix.
Leman expects there will some desperation among the men Saturday with Olympic dreams on the line.
“There are a lot of guys skiing for their Olympics lives here, not just from Canada,” he said. “France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
“There are a lot of teams really deep in talent that have five or six guys fighting for only three or four spots and we’re one of those teams.”
“It’s going to put a little bit extra oomph in everyone’s skiing.”