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Leman is untouchable in gold-medal ski cross performance

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Thursday, February 22, 2018 – Page B15

BOKWANG, SOUTH KOREA -- You could excuse Brady Leman for thinking that maybe the Olympic ski cross experience just wasn't his thing.

He broke his leg the day before the 2010 Vancouver Games and settled for fourth place after spinning out in the Sochi Olympics final four years later.

Leman was left banged up after a crash in training at the Pyeongchang Games and then lost a pole in Wednesday's seeding round.

Once the actual racing started though, Leman couldn't be touched.

The veteran Canadian held off a late charge by Switzerland's Marc Bischofberger to win Olympic gold for the first time.

"I had to just let go of everything and just race," Leman said.

"Turn the brain off a little bit in the race, which seemed to work out, I guess."

The finish capped a wild afternoon filled with tight heats and some hard crashes.

Toronto's Kevin Drury also reached the four-man big final but didn't finish after colliding with Sergey Ridzik, an Olympic Athlete from Russia, midway down the hill.

Drury lost his left ski and couldn't continue, while Ridzik eventually carried on unchallenged for the bronze.

"[I'm] proud, happy, I'm actually not even bummed yet," said Drury, who wasn't hurt. "I was immediately after I crashed, I kind of punched the ground. I skied so well today." David Duncan of London, Ont., was fourth in the small final, putting him eighth over all.

Leman, a 31-year-old from Calgary, finished second over all on the World Cup circuit last year but has had middling results this season.

He was powerful and confident on a cool, sunny afternoon at Phoenix Park. Leman was in control over the early heats and fought through a so-so start to move ahead in the big final.

Leman's timing was on point and he took on the rollers and jumps with aplomb. Bischofberger kept the pressure on throughout the final few jumps and Leman could see his shadow closing in.

"He was right there so I was telling myself, 'Just go, go, go, go, go. You can't let up until the finish line,' " he said. "I don't think I let up until 10 metres after it."

Leman was a youngster when ski cross made its Olympic debut in 2010, and was a medal hopeful four years later in Russia. The big final that year included Leman and three French skiers, who were able to box him out early.

Canadian ski cross coach Stanley Hayer said Leman did make a few mistakes that day and has become mentally stronger since.

"He gets a little older, a little smarter," Hayer said. "When you get older and smarter, the only thing you've got to watch is fear.

And he doesn't have fear yet in his blood."

After the victory, Leman admitted that thoughts of that Sochi result occasionally crept in before the race.

"Any time that would happen I would just remind myself, 'Just be here in Korea now because Sochi doesn't matter,' " Leman said.

"I'm not going to change that I was fourth at the last Games. But I can stay focused on my race and what I needed to do to be successful to make sure that I wasn't fourth at another one."

That focus was evident in the later rounds. Leman used his 203pound frame to his advantage and was tough to pass.

His victory gave Canada its first-ever men's ski cross Olympic medal. Chris Del Bosco had a chance for one in 2010, but missed the podium after crashing when a late charge backfired.

"We've had a couple fourths now on the men's side," Hayer said. "This has been a little bit of an elusive medal. Brady really stepped up today.

"That's the colour we wanted."

Del Bosco did not make it to the quarter-final after being hospitalized with a suspected pelvic injury after a nasty crash in the final heat of the ski cross competition.

He appeared to lose control as he approached a jump on the Phoenix Park course. He flew high in the air before landing hard on his back and side.

"He wasn't in a very good position when he hit that [jump]," Hayer said. "He was probably butt on bindings. That's not good when you're going straight up."

The 35-year-old from Montreal slid down the slope before lying motionless while being attended to by medical staff.

After about 15 minutes, Del Bosco was loaded on a sled and raised his arm in the air as he was transported away. Hayer said he was taken to hospital via helicopter.

Alpine Canada released a statement later in the day.

"Chris Del Bosco sustained a fall during today's ski cross race.

He's been taken to hospital with team doctors for examination.

Further information will be released when available," the statement said.

The Canadian Olympic Committee was expected to provide an update on Thursday.

Del Bosco, one of the founding members of the national ski cross team, was trying to make up some ground after falling behind early in his prequarter-final heat.

"He got a little bit antsy I think," Hayer said. "He forgot where he was between turn 6 and 7, did a single instead of a double.

Then he got back in the draft and he would have blown by [the others]. He's got probably the fastest skis in the world.

"He just missed his press and then got squished and you saw what happened."

A hush fell over the stunned crowd as Del Bosco soared in the air, his body twisting and flailing, before finally crashing down.

Del Bosco finished fourth at the 2010 Games. The 2011 world champion has won gold at the Winter X Games on two occasions.

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