Canada’s Kevin Drury celebrates after his heat in the men’s ski cross elimination round at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Drury is aware the chill attitude that drove him to a World Cup men’s ski cross title will be put to the test this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canada’s Kevin Drury celebrates after his heat in the men’s ski cross elimination round at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Drury is aware the chill attitude that drove him to a World Cup men’s ski cross title will be put to the test this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Kevin Drury leads Canadian ski cross team into uncertain season

Athletes ready hit with postponements and cancellations

Kevin Drury is aware the chill attitude that drove him to a World Cup men’s ski cross title will be put to the test this season.

In claiming last season’s crystal globe that goes to the season champion, the 32-year-old from Toronto was a podium regular in a sport where bodies routinely collide and fly off course.

Drury won four golds and finished in the top five in all but two events.

“Ski cross is not a consistent sport because there’s so much luck involved,” Drury told The Canadian Press.

“That’s why I think last year was pretty surprising to me. I know I’m fast, I know I ski well, but to consistently be where I was was pretty cool.

“In terms of repeating it, I think just trying to maintain my mental attitude that I had last year, which was just fully relaxed and let it happen rather than trying to force it.

“If at the start the results aren’t coming the way I want them to, try to not panic and compare the last season and get upset.”

He and his Canadian teammates will likely need their composure in a 2020-21 ski cross season already hit with postponements and cancellations due to both lack of snow and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t really have a battle plan,” Drury said. “I’m just going to try to control what I can control and take it from there.”

The headliners of Canada’s deep team include Drury, Olympic champions Brady Leman and Marielle Thompson, and Olympic silver medallist Britt Phelan.

Phelan’s season is delayed, however, as the 29-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., works her way back from a torn knee ligament suffered last February.

India Sherret also tore her knee ligament during pre-season training in October. The Olympian from Cranbook, B.C., is rehabilitating following surgery in November.

Season-opening World Cups in Val Thorens, France, and Montafon, Austria, were both rescheduled.

Canada’s team kicks off its season deep into December with back-to-back races Tuesday and Wednesday in Arosa, Switzerland.

Drury, Calgary’s Lemann and Thompson of Whistler, B.C., are among 15 Canadians racing in qualifying Monday.

The team then immediately heads to France, where rescheduled Val Thorens on Saturday and Sunday replaces cancelled races in Innichen, Italy.

The Canadians won’t race at home this winter. January’s World Cup at Nakiska west of Calgary came off the schedule early in the pandemic.

The recent cancellation of February’s world freestyle ski championship in China left a gaping hole in the season.

The world governing body of skiing (FIS) called off what would have been 10 days of test events for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing “in light of the current global COVID-19 situation.”

“It’s challenging, but I always say there’s never any problems, just solutions,” Canada’s ski cross high-performance director Dave Ellis said.

“We knew this was going to be a challenging season and I think we’ve embraced that. I hope we get to race because that’s why we’re in the game.”

Thinking about how to avoid the virus, in addition to the demands of training, racing and travel, will be mentally draining for the athletes, Ellis acknowledged.

“A big part of our focus is around mental health,” he said. “We realize this is fatiguing for the bulk of the group that’s been in Europe since early October.

“Typically, we would come home and kind of get some training in, but just with the way everything’s kind of fallen in front of us, it did end up being better to stay in Europe for training this time around.”

A few unidentified Canadian ski cross athletes came home in early November because they tested positive for the virus.

Some host countries require an entire national team to withdraw from a World Cup and isolate even if just one person on the team tests positive.

The Swedish women’s alpine ski team did not race a World Cup in Levi, Finland, in November because a coach tested positive. All eight skiers on the team tested negative.

“I have been very, very careful with myself around COVID,” Drury said.

“The thought of not being able to race because someone else tested positive and, because of contact tracing and whatnot, you can’t race, that would be a tough pill to swallow.”

The pandemic derailed a planned August wedding ceremony for Drury and American cross-country skier Mary Katherine Cirelli.

The couple did marry at the Burlington, Vt., courthouse in September. Drury departed for pre-season training in Saas Fee, Switzerland the following day.

”We were supposed to get married in Quebec with a big party,” Drury said. “Obviously we had to cancel that.

“We just went to the courthouse. We walked in and walked out with our marriage licence in about five minutes.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2020.

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