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Performance on demand

McIvor earns ski-cross's first women's gold

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VANCOUVER -- Call it performance on demand. Call it bragging with portfolio. Call it living up to the spirit of Canada's much-maligned goal of owning the podium.

If the Olympics come down to an athlete bringing it at the moment, Ashleigh McIvor delivered on demand Tuesday at Cypress Mountain.

She's Canadian. She's the defending world champion. And she's the first Olympic gold medallist in the history of women's ski cross.

No apologies necessary from the host country.

Not this time.

"This is like the only race of my life where I just felt I was going to win," she said, her cheeks rosy from the cold and snow. "I used to think it was bad to think that way, that I was going to jinx it or I'd be so disappointed if I didn't win."

She felt disappointed -- actually crushed is more like it -- Sunday when her boyfriend and teammate Chris Del Bosco did a face plant and lost out on a chance for bronze in the men's ski cross final.

History did not repeat itself Tuesday with Cypress Mountain actually looking like a Winter Olympic venue for a change. Blinding snow gusted sideways across a course already considered difficult by any standards -- especially at the start for the women.

Advantage: Canada. Advantage: McIvor.

"Growing up in Whistler, I was shredding powder, dropping cliffs chasing the boys my whole life," said McIvor, once described as "a little bit hippie, a little bit supermodel" by her coach, Eric Archer. "Skiing in the back country and racing your buddies from the top of the hill to the bottom -- that's what ski cross is all about.

"Who could go out and represent Canada better than a Whistler girl?"

With the crowd roaring from the bottom of the course, McIvor took a deep breath from her perch at the top.

She felt peace.

"Standing in the start gate, I was thinking that everything that's happened in my life up to this point has been leading me to here," she said. "This is where I want to be right now. I felt like I was made for this event. It's in my hometown, pretty much.

"What more could I ask for?"

With blond hair poking out from her helmet, McIvor soared out of the gate, grabbed the coveted hole shot in the four-woman final and never looked back.

But she did think of her boyfriend as she rocketed toward the finish line.

"I always draw inspiration from him," she said. "I actually thought about it as I went through that corner in the final. 'Don't do what Chris did. Stay on your feet.' "

McIvor captured Canada's sixth gold medal at the 2010 Olympics. Hedda Berntsen of Norway grabbed the silver and Marion Josserand of France cashed in with bronze.

No. 1-ranked Ophelie David of France crashed in the quarter-final, leaving the door wide open for McIvor to carve her spot in the history of the baby Olympic sport.


"This is the best moment of my entire life," McIvor said. "I've worked so hard to get here and it's so awesome to be able to represent my hometown, my home province, my home country so well on the world stage."

The Own the Podium program has been a target of ridicule in recent days for making promises that Canadian athletes have been unable to keep.

Canadian Olympic Committee officials finally admitted this week that Canada would not "own the podium" given the Americans' huge lead atop the medal standings.

McIvor kept up her end of the bargain and she credits Own the Podium for putting herself in the position to win gold.

At home, no less.

"Thanks to the support from Own the Podium," she said. "I felt so prepared. You can't do it without this kind of support. You can't do it on your own dime, tuning your own skis.

"Yeah, there was pressure, but you can also look at it like people having confidence in you."


-- Canwest News Serv ices

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2010 C4

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