Well, the official debut of ski cross as an Olympic sport is over. Canada’s ski cross dream team, assembled a couple of years ago with the express purpose of bringing home lots and lots of shiny round metal disks, didn’t quite live up to expectations. There’d been talk a few weeks ago of three or even four medals, but the men’s team was completely shut out. Whatever. Ashleigh McIvor more than made up for it with her dominating victory over the women’s field.
So what have we learned from these two days of Olympic ski cross?
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN
The sport sounds simple enough. Four skiers start at the top, race to the bottom, first across the line wins. It’s just that in between there are steep jumps, hard bank turns and three other people who’ll do just about anything they can to make sure you don’t get down before them. Canadians learned that watching Chris Del Bosco’s gutsy push for silver on Sunday, which unfortunately cost him a podium position when he crashed on the second-last jump. Here’s something else that sets ski cross apart, though. In most sports losing an almost guaranteed bronze in pursuit of a silver or gold just isn’t done. But in the adrenaline-addicted ski cross community, Del Bosco’s all or nothing push earned him more props than if he’d settled for third. Even Entertainment Weekly dubbed him the Olympic Stud of the Day.
MORE CRASH CAMS, PLEASE
Some ski crossers wear tiny video cameras atop their helmets. They’re there ostensibly so viewers can get a feel for what it’s like to hurl down the side of a mountain at 80 km/h. In reality, they’re much better at showing what happens when you go from 80 to zero in less than five seconds, straight into the side of a snow bank. Other sports should follow suit: bobsled, moguls and short track speed skating. And what the heck, let’s wire up the goalies, too.
THERE’S ROOM TO GROW
Ski cross as a sport is a work in progress. It’s still a toddler in terms of official competitions. The sport debuted at the Winter X Games just over a decade ago. But it does have some limitations in its current incarnation, as some critics have pointed out. One complaint is that whoever gets the fastest start will often win the race. That’s not always true, but in heats with lower caliber skiers, barring a magnificent crash, the race is often determined in the first few seconds. Expect those kinks to be worked out in coming races away from the glare of the Olympic spotlight.
In the end few events at the Vancouver games generated more buzz than ski cross. And with Games organizers and the networks gambling billions of dollars to attract young viewers, any sport that packs excitement, danger, triumph and heart-break neatly into two-minute, easily-downloadable morsels is pure gold. That fact alone will guarantee its return in Sochi in four years.