Brady Leman wins ski cross gold in Pyeongchang
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 21, 2018 12:57AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 21, 2018 10:23AM EST
BOKWANG, Korea, Republic Of -- You could excuse Brady Leman for thinking that maybe the Olympic skicross 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 Olympic 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 overall. Montreal's Chris Del Bosco didn't make it past the pre-quarterfinal heat, taking a hard fall on his back after going over a jump.
Del Bosco was taken off the course on a sled and transported to hospital with team doctors for examination. He was conscious, stable, and nursing a suspected pelvic injury, a team spokesman said.
Leman, a 31-year-old from Calgary, finished second overall 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 over 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 skicross 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 skicross 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 203-pound frame to his advantage and was tough to pass.
His victory gave Canada its first-ever men's skicross Olympic medal. 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."