Skicross is built on one very simple tenant: to go as fast as you possibly dare for as long as you possibly dare and hope everything works out in the end with the understanding that it usually won't.
It's a mindset that led Brady Leman to a fourth-place at the Sochi Olympics four years ago. One that the Canadian knew he had to go against — at least for a few seconds — if he wanted to reach the top of the podium at Phoenix Snow Park.
So in the middle of the treacherous course that sent a handful of riders to the hospital in medical sleds following frightening crashes, Leman did something he almost never does. He slowed down, opting for control over speed.
The decision paid off with gold.
Leman navigated the tricky middle section that wreaked havoc with portions of the field then held off Marc Bischofberger of Switzerland in the finals on Wednesday to give him a measure of redemption for the near miss in Sochi. Leman was a close fourth heading in the last segment in Russia but washed out, allowing France to sweep all three medals.
Not this time, thanks in no small part to Leman's decision to ease up.
"That's super counterintuitive as a ski racer," Leman said. "You just try to go full gas everywhere but you weren't able to there and it's too bad there were a lot of crashes."
Skicross is basically a NASCAR race held on snow down the side of a mountain. Competitors race side-by-side over bumps, jumps and dips at speeds well over 40 mph. Olympic organizers put together a demanding test, one that gave the skiers more of what they usually ask for, namely fewer turns and longer straightaways.
It may have been too much of a good thing. So many athletes wiped out in training, including Leman and Bischofberger, that the course was altered overnight in an attempt to make it a bit safer.
"They made some good fixes," said Canada's Kevin Drury, who came in fourth after colliding with Russian bronze medalist Sergey Ridzik early in the final. "You definitely had to be on it, you had to be balanced in the air."
Something Drury's teammate and 2011 world champion Chris Del Bosco was not during the first round of elimination. Del Bosco came out of a jump too high and lost control. His skis ended up over his head and his right side slammed hard into the snow. He lay motionless for several moments while medical attendants rushed to his aide.
The 35-year-old Canadian was able to lift one of his hands to fans as he was taken to the ambulance, though there was no immediate update on the extent of his injuries. Terence Tchiknavorian of France appeared to injure his right leg after landing a jump awkwardly and Christophe Wahrstoetter of Austria became tangled up in the fence after colliding with Erik Mobaerg of Sweden.
There was a lengthy delay while Del Bosco was treated, though Leman said that's just part of doing business. He edged Bischofberger in the first quarterfinal after the course was cleared, a sequence that would repeat itself two more times, though Leman wasn't aware the final essentially turned into a two-man race after Drury and Ridzik got tangled up.
"I could see one shadow behind me and I knew someone was hot on my tail and so I was just going like crazy," Leman said.
So was Bischofberger, who joked he felt like "an old man" after a wipeout in training forced him to spend copious amounts of time with the Swiss team doctor hoping to get his achy back good enough to race. He managed to earn silver, though there was no stopping Team Canada.
In addition to Leman and Drury, teammate Dave Duncan reached the consolation final. Not bad in a sport invented by Americans and largely dominated by Europeans.
"Right now we're the best nation in the world in skicross and have been for the past couple of years," Leman said. "It's a great day for our team."
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