WEST VANCOUVER – What started out as a cloudy day on Heartbreak Hill for West Vancouver’s Maëlle Ricker turned into a celebration of gold for Canada under sunny skies on Cypress Mountain Tuesday.
After taking a spill in her first qualification heat, Ricker rebounded to smoke the competition in winning the women’s snowboard cross and capturing Canada’s second gold medal of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The victory also exorcized some demons from the 2006 Games in Italy when she finished fourth after taking a horrendous spill in the final.
“Turin was such a motivator for me. It made my work that much harder and go for it today,” said Ricker. “It really, really helped me to get to the podium.”
At the Olympics four years ago, Ricker flew off course into safety netting suffering a concussion. She had to be told about her fourth-place finish because she had little memory of the race or crash. She only remembers waking up in the helicopter that was evacuating her for medical treatment. But ever since returning Ricker has been on a medal mission.
But at the start of the day, it looked like mission impossible. With low cloud shrouding the course, the qualification heats were delayed for two hours. Then once the first heat began, it was put on hold after just two boarders completed the course. Ricker was second after the action resumed, but she wiped out just 20 seconds into her heat. She picked herself up and crawled up the course ramp and then took off to resume her run, falling after crossing the finish line. She finished 17th, which if only one run counted would have taken her one spot out of qualifying.
Fortunately for her, snowboard cross qualification has a reset button since only the best time of the two heats count. The next run she made no mistake coming in with the third best qualification time as the sun finally decided to grace Cypress with its presence.
“I just had to make it exciting,” said Ricker kiddingly. “I was heartbroken after that first run. I had to go back up to the start, refocus, think about my lines (on the hill), visualize all the stuff we’ve been training all week, all year, all the last few years and just lay it down on my second run, stay on my feet and make the final.”
In the semifinals, she was up against American Lindsay Jacobellis, who had the gold in the bag four years ago when she decided to pull a hot dog move on her final jump, giving the Olympic crown to Tanja Frieden of Switzerland. Ricker jumped out to the early lead and then suddenly with the two close together Jacobellis lost her balance and hit the outside of a gate, which is an automatic disqualification, allowing Ricker to cruise into the final.
After taking congratulations and high-fives, Ricker hopped aboard the chairlift by herself to go back up to the top for the run she’d been waiting four years to do.
“I was just thinking about my start, just thinking about what I have to do to get out of that start as fast as possible, to explode out on to the course,” said Ricker, 31.
Her explosion was so big the bomb squad should have been called in. She took off like a Ferrari out of the gate and was never challenged all the way down the mountain finishing well ahead of France’s Deborah Anthonioz, Olivia Nobs of Switzerland and Norwegian Helene Olafsen.
The crowd, which included tons of family and friends as well as six people carrying the letters to her first name with the E even having the requisite umlaut over it with two little white balls attached to wires, went nuts as she flew down the last couple of jumps to claim Canada’s second gold medal of the Games.
“There’s so many people behind us, so many Canadians watching,” smiled Ricker.
In the end, the only downer for Ricker was being disappointed, shocked and “very, very sad” about not being able to share the podium with Canadian teammate Dominique Maltais, who had a disastrous day. The bronze medallist in 2006, who sits third in World Cup standings didn’t even come close to making the quarter-finals after being disqualified in her first heat and wiping out on her second.
Photos by Don Denton/Black Press