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Madcap ski cross makes Winter Olympic debut

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Anna Thompson | 22:25 UK time, Sunday, 21 February 2010

I've heard it described as a mixture of Nascar, motocross and bull riding. I've seen it compared to "a cabbie in New York trying to race through traffic and not crash". And I've heard it being likened to wacky races and the Grand National on skis all rolled into one.

Whatever similies and metaphors you choose to describe ski cross it arrived at the Winter Olympics with a big bang at a melting Cypress Mountain.

It was making its debut at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, four years after its snowboarding counterpart, and it certainly didn't disappoint.

For the record, Switzerland's Michael Schmid will go down in history as the first Olympic ski cross champion, Austria's Andreas Matt and Norway's Audun Groenvold the silver and bronze medallists respectively, but there were plenty of thrills and spills along the way.

Ski crossThe sport has been around since its infancy in the early 1990s and made its debut in the X Games in 1998 before being adopted onto the World Cup circuit in 2004.

The racers are a mixture of former alpine skiers and pure freestylers, but one thing is for sure - they have a fearless attitude to battle against each other at that speed.

After a timed qualification run ended with only one casualty, Czech Zdenek Safar, the 32 competitors were divided into eight heats of four racers. And that's when the madcap fun began as the crowd got pumped for the action with real rock tunes from Nirvana, Led Zeppelin and Metallica. There was no room for soft pop music here.

And the cheers and cow bells were ringing loud In the first heat as American alpine veteran Daron Rahlves, who switched to ski cross after the 2006 Winter Olympics, took on Schmid, the season's World Cup leader, France's Ted Piccard and Sweden's Eric Iljans down the 1,144m course in little over a minute.

Rahlves was on contention until he collided with Piccard on the penultimate jump, sending Schmid and Iljans through to the quarter-finals.

There was more carnage in the second heat - to gasps and whoops from the bloodthirsty crowd - as Anders Rekdal and Simon Stickl came to grief.

Rahlves, who was racing despite suffering a hip dislocation - the fourth of his career - at the recent X Games, continued to watch the racers fly down as he chatted to the media.

He was frustrated not to go through as he was desperate for an Olympic medal - the only thing missing from an illustrious alpine and now freestyle career.

"I was determined to race in the Olympics," Rahlves told me afterwards. "But I'm disappointed with the outcome."

It wasn't to be for his American team-mate Casey Puckett either. Puckett, in his fifth Olympics after also turning his back on alpine skiing, suffered the same fate.

Puckett bemoaned the soft spring-like snow that was slowing the racers down and making it virtually impossible to overtake. He had a point. Once a racer got out ahead they were never beaten. The only jockeying for position was usually between the second- and third-placed racers, both vying for that all-important second qualification spot.

"If you weren't out in front, you had to rely on a mistake from one of the others which was a shame," he said.

Hopes were high for a host nation medal as Chris Delbosco had won X Games gold earlier in the year. He used to be a member of the US alpine ski team but was dismissed for smoking marijuana. He turned to ski cross and used his dual-citizenship to represent Canada.

Delbosco sailed through to the final, winning all of his heats, but he came a cropper in the medal race, ironically after he had succeeded in a rare overtaking manoeuvre.

The 4,300-strong crowd had been cheering him on wildly as he looked nailed on for a bronze, only to fall on the penultimate jump, where most of the racers had found trouble. Cue a huge communal groan.

Bronze medallist Groenvold explained how difficult the course had been by saying the final obstacle "was like jumping out of a second-floor window".

And he summed up the unpredictably of the sport perfectly.

"I was thinking 'it isn't over until you cross the finish line,'" he said. "Unfortunately he (Delbosco) made a big mistake which gave me a good chance to pass. When you see someone crash like that, it's a mixed feeling. That's how the sport is."

Welcome to the madcap world that is ski cross.

Comments

  • 1. At 08:02am on 22 Feb 2010, boils wrote:

    Just because it is fun, does that make it an Olympic sport? The Winter Olympics seems to be full of such 'sports.'

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  • 2. At 08:25am on 22 Feb 2010, Takhisis wrote:

    What an absolutely outstanding event! I was riveted to my TV! Not having a GB competitor to cheer for, we made ourselves honourary Canadians and supported the 'bad boy' Del Bosco, what a tragedy that he crashed out on the last section. Is this truely an Olympic sport? Who cares?! It was fun, exciting and something I'll be looking out for in the furture. It's certainly made the Winter Olympics more appealing for me. Rather sad I missed the half-pipe now...

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  • 3. At 08:29am on 22 Feb 2010, darkvalleysboy1978 wrote:

    Ski cross is the first skiing sport I've enjoyed in the Winter Olympics. It was fast, frenetic and exciting with lots of jostling around for positions. It was thrilling!
    Compared to the frankly boring downhill skiing sports it was superb and kept me up to watch the final.

    Let's hope more of these sports are welcomed into the Winter Olympics to bring some more excitement into what was a boring Olympics before their inclusion

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  • 4. At 08:58am on 22 Feb 2010, MegaSpur wrote:

    awesonme event...I have been looking forward to it since I heard it was being added to the Olympic schedule...power,skill,excitement and drama...all the ingredients for a cracking olympic event...15 races back to back in an hour and a half...perfect for television too

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  • 5. At 09:12am on 22 Feb 2010, Appledeuce wrote:

    A brilliant, welcome addition to the Winter Olympics.
    I thought snowboard cross was incredible, but this is fantastic. It's an absolute thrill for spectators, it is surely exhilirating for competitors, it demands skill, courage, fitness, desire,tactical awareness and physical and mental strength. What more does a sport need to be worthy of inclusion in the Olympics?

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  • 6. At 09:18am on 22 Feb 2010, lee fett wrote:

    Absolutely fantastic stuff! Before yesterday my favourite sport so far had been the snowboard cross but the fact that the skiers go faster means ski cross has taken over top spot for me. I have so much respect for those guys as well and the strength they must have in their legs and particularly their knees to be able to withstand the stresses of those jumps. They're all maniacs! Great action though and from the reactions of the crowd I think ski cross is here to stay.

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  • 7. At 09:25am on 22 Feb 2010, ElGreco wrote:

    Agree with all the comments above, even though I'm a snowboarder. Highlight of the winter Olympics for me so far. Had a mighty old argument with the wife who wanted to watch the Baftas but I just couldn't switch channels as I was glued to the screen. Shame that Jamaican dude didn't do better, it would have been great to see him in the final.

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  • 8. At 09:46am on 22 Feb 2010, MegaSpur wrote:

    hehe ElGreco....a little ear bashing is good for the soul...especially when you win the argument :)

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  • 9. At 09:58am on 22 Feb 2010, rpaulw wrote:

    Boils - do you ski? Have you ever been down a ski cross track?

    By your comment it would appear not; the skill and physical ability to get down those courses at the speeds these guys do is incredible.

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  • 10. At 09:59am on 22 Feb 2010, Welsh84 wrote:

    It is good to see the winter olympics being more willing to add new interesting sports to its programme. This sport fits in well with the theme of the winter olympics sports which are mainly fitness, courage and risk based.

    Although it sounds like British audiences are only interested in this sport due to the amount of crashes. The other alpine skiing events have also been great to watch and the downhill's have really seperated the cream of the crop with the big jumps.

    However, if the only way people will watch the other events is if they follow the high casualty rate of skier-cross then maybe we should try introduce similar things to the summer olympics with less lanes at the finish line and the 100m being full contact? Or are the British public just less open minded than the rest of Europe and only care about football or another sport if England are briefly doing well.

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  • 11. At 10:29am on 22 Feb 2010, RubberNutz wrote:

    JimClark07

    are the British public just less open minded than the rest of Europe and only care about football or another sport if England are briefly doing well

    -----------

    I think you'll find that its mainly because the event is television friendly, and is analogous to the sports British people are normally shown.

    For example we get fed Formuala 1 racing where the cars are going head to head on a track ala ski-cross. World rallying however is something that gets much less coverage.

    I think the average British viewer is just less interested in purely timed events.

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  • 12. At 10:46am on 22 Feb 2010, lee fett wrote:

    Ooh harsh words JimClark07 :) don't worry I'm not trying to start an argument. I don't think it's the case that the British public are less open-minded than the rest of Europe. I think it's more down to the fact that we don't have nearly as much access to snow as a lot of the rest of Europe. We lack the ability to actually try out winter sport events and that means they don't catch the attention of the public as much as the Summer Games events.

    Personally I think that's a key point. People like watching sports that they have played or could go and experience for themselves. It's easy to go over the park and kick a ball around, or hit the tennis ball in the road or down the local courts. But to even go skiing you have to actually pay out for a holiday unless you want to try the dry slopes which, let's face it, just aren't the same. If there's a Brit involved then people will get behind them but if not then the interest isn't there. It's not that people think the events are without merit it's just there isn't the same pull there as other sports to grab their attention. That's why ski cross has appealed, because it's fast, exciting, dramatic and you have that racing element of who can beat who. Personally I quite like watching alpine skiing, however it's just time trials. There's something more exciting seeing competitors actually battle it out against each other on the track together.

    So as I said I don't think open-mindedness is the issue, it's the issue that we're not an alpine nation. Sadly we're a wet, soggy nation!

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  • 13. At 10:48am on 22 Feb 2010, swell wrote:

    Fantastic watching! Boils your a bore!

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  • 14. At 10:58am on 22 Feb 2010, Lagellerotumblero - Show goes on after 606 wrote:

    I've just watched a minute of the highlights, and I've fallen in love with the sport! And I'm in Africa where we don't even get live coverage of the winter olympics, only highlights. Sad I can't watch the live action!

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  • 15. At 11:44am on 22 Feb 2010, Give Me A Break wrote:

    This was an awsome event I thought the board-cross was exciting but this blew me away. The athletes showed no fear and anyone who dosnt think this shouldnt be an olympic sport is just mad

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  • 16. At 11:48am on 22 Feb 2010, Welsh84 wrote:

    I'm not trying to be harsh I just think that the winter sports should get more recognition over here and think its great people like this new format. The irony is that they probably won't see it on the BBC again as the winter olympics have been taken off the terrestrial list for key sporting events and so making the winter olympics a second rate event according to the media. This is coupled with some media saying the events are just different types of sliding and jumping and belittling the event.

    I just want the British to be more open minded to winter sports as there are many other good ones but won't get attention unless its hyped by clothes manufacturers. For instance Biathlon is as interesting as Ski-Cross as they change position unexpectedly and it is gripping to watch.

    With it being the 3rd or 4th time this winter that it has snowed near London maybe we can have the opportunity to participate in these sports more often and with Scotland having its best winter for decades maybe it could become more frequent.

    It would just be for a country with millions who go away skiing every year and which is a big industry in the UK to realise it is firstly a sport and put funding and interest in that way to help grow the sport.

    Finally (sorry for it being so long), there have been great spectator events for Alpine skiing in the Dual Slalom form which although not a World Cup or Olympic event has featured the worlds best. Look at the yearly event in Moscow on an artificial platform and was truely spectacular. This could be held in London like the big air competitions are. If you got this far, thanks for hearing me out.

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  • 17. At 12:01pm on 22 Feb 2010, Dean Barrow wrote:

    This is a superb event, made sure I watched it as loved the Snowboard X as well. Would love to see Bode Miller give it a go after he has finished Alpine Skiing as could see him giving it with some of the youngsters coming up

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  • 18. At 12:06pm on 22 Feb 2010, guyastral wrote:

    if only the BBC showed more of these sports and less curling... ZZzzzzzz

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  • 19. At 12:10pm on 22 Feb 2010, leia27 wrote:

    I enjoyed the Ski Cross, it's equally as good to watch as Board Cross and of course it add's to the winter games. Now then, all we want now is the IOC to take a look at the Crashed Ice event's which are slowly building up. Crashed Ice takes Ski and Board Cross onto a specially constructed ice track as we have 4 skaters in hockey equipment racing down the track with jumps and burns.

    I saw last years from Ontario, and this year there are two events in Berlin and Ontario, take a look for this online it may help in that it's sponsered by a well known drinks company that has a F1 team and "gives you wings".

    Along with Slope Style, we'll have a full compliment of established Winter Sports will we? However I do suggest you have a look for the Crashed Ice site and look at the video's.

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  • 20. At 12:18pm on 22 Feb 2010, baiano wrote:

    I heard a very unprofessional commentary on the BBC TV coverage. The commentator for one race was confused over the identities of the two leading skiers. This confusion lasted from the beginning to the end of the race. Then he just said "Alpine background, alpine Schmackground" for no reason at all. Then he called a Jamaican skier "Errol Flynn". I can only assume your commentator was 'doing a Reggie Bosanquet".

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  • 21. At 12:23pm on 22 Feb 2010, kris wrote:

    Just because it is fun, does that make it an Olympic sport? The Winter Olympics seems to be full of such 'sports.'

    ------------------------

    Surely the 'fun' of the sport is what actually defines it to be called a sport. If a sport is good viewing, and that was the best thing in the winter olympics by an absolute mile, then it will be popular and is deserving of being an olympic sport. Why on earth do you think, rightly or wrongly, golf is now in the olympics but squash isn't?

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  • 22. At 12:24pm on 22 Feb 2010, Me and Julio down by the schoolyard wrote:

    Hiya Anna,

    Nice blog, just a note of factual content. DelBosco finished second in his semi-final after a poor start (which he failed to improve in the final) and was forced to come back from third place to sneak into the final.

    I have to say I know the purists will be against Ski Cross, but it was one of the best 90 minutes of watching ski-ing I've ever had! Thoroughly enjoyable and the best man won.

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  • 23. At 12:39pm on 22 Feb 2010, boils wrote:

    #9 and #11

    Yes I ski and yes it was entertaining but this is the Olympics. Otherwise we should have Guitar Hero in there as well next time.

    Frankly this event should stay and others, like the 20 forms of slaying, skiing or boarding should be cut.

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  • 24. At 12:41pm on 22 Feb 2010, lee fett wrote:

    Hehe Baiano I heard that as well, cracked me up! Wouldn't go as far as to say it was unprofessional that's just the way the guy who was commentating seems to be. Gets all over-excited and a bit muddled!

    I agree with some of your points though JimClark07. It's a shame some media outlets over here (ie the tabloid press) have decided to focus more on the perceived problems of the Games rather than actually following the action and telling people what's happening. And you're right I expect a lot of people won't see the ski cross again for another 4 years. But I also expect there will be quite a few people that will find out more about it and where they can watch it as it was a thrilling spectacle.

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  • 25. At 1:15pm on 22 Feb 2010, Tom wrote:

    First off, Ed Leigh and Graham Bell did a cracking job on the commentry, understandably the odd bit of confusion though given some of the camera shots.

    It was a good event to see in the olympics, along with the boardercross. Racing like this is much more enjoyable and pits everyone against each other in the exact same conditions and is a mad dash to the finish line, seeing people go down one by one soon becomes tiresome.

    Everyone seems to have gone mad over ski and boarder cross, but the UK has had BMX racing and mountanbike four cross racing for ages, yet nobody seems to be aware of it, despite being just as exciting, and a lot more accessable.

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  • 26. At 1:24pm on 22 Feb 2010, ctothee wrote:

    @boils - re #23 - you don't actually say *what* an Olympic sport should involve. You say "this is the Olympics" - what does that mean to you?

    Should the summer Olympics do away with the 200m and 400m on the track, as they're just longer versions of the 100m? And the swimming programme could be cut by 75% too. Hmm, you should join the 2012 organising committee - you'd save us a fortune!

    Obviously your post has come about because different people have different views on what the Olympics is, but what is your view? You don't say what you think a sport needs to be in the games.

    And if i can just correct one error in your comment - Guitar Hero would obviously be a Summer Olympic sport, DJ Hero would feature in the Winter games ;)

    @JimClark - so what you're saying is "good on the Olympics for including the sport, good on the BBC for showing the games, but shame on the British public for watching (and enjoying) this sport"? If people get in to one winter sport, they're more likely to start watching another, then another, and so on, surely? (Until the BBC stop showing it...)
    I live in Scotland and it's snowed twice where I am all winter. Reckon i should be ok for a spot in the Sochi games in 2014? i'm thinking Ski Jumping.
    As the saying almost goes, one cold winter does not an Alpine nation make.

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  • 27. At 1:27pm on 22 Feb 2010, NicRolastic wrote:

    If you are going to use that vastly over used word, please learn how to spell it - it's awesome!

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  • 28. At 1:50pm on 22 Feb 2010, Me and Julio down by the schoolyard wrote:

    Tom,

    I think the fact that it is is much quicker in the ski-ing, is the reason that it is so much more watchable than BMX racing or mountainbike four cross.

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  • 29. At 1:58pm on 22 Feb 2010, Give Me A Break wrote:

    Tom mabye after the 2012 Games people will be more interested in BMX cross as it has been added to the schedule because to be honest I didnt really know anything about Ski-Cross until last night but will try to see more of it now

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  • 30. At 2:27pm on 22 Feb 2010, Welsh84 wrote:

    ctothee,

    Thats not what i said. I said its a shame that this is the only way the British public get an opportunity to see and enjoy winter sports and that it isn't helped by the lack of respect in the media for them. I also then said this is an opportunity for people to get into winter sports and increase the public awareness of winter sports.

    You also may not have some of the outdoor facilities but there are so many sports you can try out. By the same attitude why don't you try to compete in the 2012 Olympics as there's you seem to think its the perfect climate for it.

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  • 31. At 3:28pm on 22 Feb 2010, Rob K wrote:

    BMX cross was in Beijing, was it not? ISTR Britain had a potential gold medallist (world champion for the last umpteen years) who failed to deliver.

    And, while the Winter Olympics has been removed from the list of protected events, that doesn't mean its prestige has declined. Or that it won't be shown on terrestrial TV. It just means the BBC will have to decide whether to bid for the rights. It's possible, given the nature of some the more extreme and niche events, that it would be a better fit on Channel 4.

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  • 32. At 4:24pm on 22 Feb 2010, Tom wrote:

    Correct, BMX racing was in Beijing, and anyone who saw the size of the gap in the jump over the track will agree you couldn't do that without going pretty fast. Be under no illusion about the speeds involved with pedal power, the 60kph of ski-cross is easily acheivable, in 4X especialy. Shanaze Reade did bail yes, and learnt a big lesson about the 'all or nothing' approach when you're in the medals.

    I agree channel 4 could do the games justice, although i feel if the winter olympics sways too much into Winter X Games territory it could ruin both events as they'll just be too similar (especially seeing as winter X has a Europe event too now)

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  • 33. At 7:04pm on 22 Feb 2010, Ronny Rosenthal Fan Club wrote:

    Fantastic sport, fantastic entertainment! BBC, please show us more of this great sport in the future!

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  • 34. At 7:27pm on 22 Feb 2010, pvandck wrote:

    Great addition to the Games, but what does the "cross" bit mean? I can see how a racer might be "cross" if taken out by an opponent!

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  • 35. At 10:20pm on 22 Feb 2010, skicrossfan wrote:

    Skier Cross is great, it is always so unpredictable... and GB actually have 2 very good girls in Emily Sarsfield and Sarah Sauvey. The IOC criteria for them to attend the Olympics was so tough and only gives 35 places. Britain were given 2 places but declined one and would only take one of the girls. Absolute madness given the nature of the sport and its unpredictability... having 2 athletes from one nation is an advantage as they team up in the heats... France have been very good at this in previous races! Poor Emily will watch the event on TV after GB declined her place, so she will watch the lower ranked athletes take her start! Thanks GB!!

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  • 36. At 10:36am on 23 Feb 2010, Kutskii wrote:

    Boils. dont be so boring. it is a fantastic event. How is it any less of a "sport" then lets say alpine sking or curling?

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  • 37. At 12:37pm on 23 Feb 2010, xliam wrote:

    The athleticism involved to succeed in this exciting race surely qualifies it, not only as a "sport" by the dictionary definiteion, but one of the better sports at that.

    With the exception of curling (in my opinion, which is really more of a "game"! Like darts, snooker, and bowling), the Winter Olympics are not full of "so-called sports" as Boils, poster #1, suggests. The Winter Olympics are full to the brim with outstanding athletes competing in what are largely the most physically demanding sports in the world. It ain't cricket, no, it's much better than that :-)

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  • 38. At 12:39pm on 23 Feb 2010, Tom wrote:

    The 'cross' is probably just a continuation of the motocross theme in which it originaly meant cross country, which was then adopted by BMX (bicycle motocross) and Ski, Board and MTB four cross (previously known as BSX - bicycle supercross)as they all follow pretty much the same format.

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  • 39. At 7:33pm on 24 Feb 2010, Ann wrote:

    Can someone tell me how to spell Ruang(?) and give its derivation, if possible? Many thanks

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  • 40. At 08:58am on 25 Feb 2010, Vounaki95 wrote:

    I've found the Baord/Skiacross coverage absolutely riveting and it's Ed's commentary that really gets across the excitement of the sport, tempered by his knowledge & understanding.

    It's 100% pure Bonkers...

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  • 41. At 11:49am on 25 Feb 2010, sportsfan101 wrote:

    Absolutely brilliant TV, and about time too! Personally I believe all our Team GB athletes did spectacularly well considering SnowSports GB officially filed for administration one week before the Games - only in the UK!

    In comment to Skicross fan, whilst it is a complete shame that the BOA rejected one place, this is in no way the fault of the GB girls. As a true skicross fan I assume you would know that both Sarah and Emily were equally ranked, however with Emily returning from a serious knee injury and failing to take some runs in the European Cup it was the wise decision to go with Sarah. Her place of 34th is extremely commendable considering she has taught herself the sport, has had no coach, no government nor NGB funding and travels with no support staff. The other nations have an army of support, and have done for many years, yet she still beat many of them. Very well done Sarah for pioneering the sport - GB is behind you all the way! Let’s hope your commitment to the sport is recognised with better funding support.

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