Canadian Ashleigh McIvor wins ski-cross gold at Vancouver Olympics

Canadian Ashleigh McIvor is the first Olympic women’s ski-cross champion.

Ashleigh McIvor

Ashleigh McIvor

WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — Canadian Ashleigh McIvor is the first Olympic women’s ski-cross champion.

The 26-year-old native of Whistler, B.C., led from start to finish to win gold Tuesday at the Vancouver Winter Games, where ski cross is making its Olympic debut.

Hedda Berntsen of Norway won silver at Cypress Mountain while Marion Josserand of France took the bronze.

Kelsey Serwa of Kelowna, B.C., just missed making the final to finish fifth. Julia Murray of Whistler, B.C., finished 12th while Danielle Poleschuk of Winnipeg finished 19th under grey skies at Cypress Mountain.

McIvor is the defending world champion and won a World Cup silver medal on the Cypress course just over a year ago. She is ranked second in the World Cup standings.

She said she felt ready to race.

“There was nothing more I could have done to be better equipped to perform well here,” she told CTV. “It worked out and I can’t believe it.”

Top-ranked Ophelie David of France crashed in the quarter-finals.

The high-drama event features four skiers navigating a course with bumps, jumps and turns in a race to the finish line.

McIvor was Canada’s first ski-cross racer to secure a spot on the Olympic freestyle team — which served as both a blessing and a curse for McIvor. She was thrilled to have a Games spot locked up well in advance, but the early nomination only made the wait that much more difficult.

Tuesday’s performance made it worth the wait.

“I just felt like I was made for this event,” said McIvor. “It’s in my hometown pretty much. What more could I ask for?”

A natural daredevil, McIvor began skiing down her parents’ carpeted steps at age two. As a child, she spent her summers traversing rugged terrain on her bike, and her winters blazing down the ski hill.

She became so good at both that she routinely skied with and against boys at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, and raced them on her bike. And she won — a lot.

That combination of natural skill and competitive fire made ski-cross the perfect sport for McIvor, whose promising alpine ski career was cut short at 16 when she broke her leg at the national championships at Sun Peaks. Following a difficult two-year recovery, McIvor was drawn to ski cross after watching it on video.

After winning her first-ever ski-cross race seven years ago — and subsequently qualifying for the X Games — McIvor was hooked. Sponsors and ski companies lined up right away, recognizing that the combination of movie-star beauty and raw talent made her an instant superstar.

She enjoyed plenty of success in X Games, and spent time extreme skiing in North America. But it wasn’t until 2006 that McIvor began realizing the Olympics might be in her future.

Amid rumours that ski cross would be added to the Olympic program, McIvor wrote an essay for her University of British Columbia English class on why it should be a Winter Games sport — comparing it to BMX Racing, which was about to make its Summer Olympic debut in Beijing.

Ski cross gained entry with the International Olympic Committee’s approval in November 2006. After being one of the first athletes named to Canada’s national team, McIvor made reaching the Games one of her primary goals, cutting her 2007-08 World Cup season short to have a serious shoulder injury repaired.

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