Smith and Howden new ski cross queen and king

It was truly a ski cross competition to watch with all to see of what we love most about this sport – passes, jumps, turns, and fair and exciting fights for the podium spots and more importantly, for the golden crown. All of this ski cross action was sent from Russia with love with a huge crowd of spectators, cheering on their favourite athletes. It was the first time this season that athletes got to experience this fundamentally great feeling of coming into the finish and being welcomed with applause.

Fanny Smith grabs fourth golden crown

The penultimate big final of the season on the women’s side saw once again the rivals Fanny Smith (SUI) and Sandra Naeslund (SWE), joined by Courntey Hoffos (CAN) and Katrin Ofner (AUT) at the top of the hill, ready to send it all the way to the golden crown.

Smitha and Naeslund managed a super quick start and were neck-and-neck until the first roller section, which the Swedish World Champion used to her advantage to get in front of Smith. It was the exact same element that had Courntey Hoffos, then sittining in third, make a mistake, causing her to crash and taking her out of the podium battle at the very beginning of the race.

Therefore, Ofner was able to pass and get into third position and watch the ever-lasting battle between Naeslund and Smith for the win.

A super fast Naeslund was able to be in the lead and to defend her position, every time Smith tried to make a passing move, which first happened at an upcoming turn, where the Swede took the upper line and was faster into the next part of the course. She stayed as compact as possible, which gave Smith the opportunity to stay in Naeslund’s wind shadow and therefore literally staying at her tail.

At the bottom roller section, it was Smith finally gaining enough speed to be able to make a tactical move to the left and trusting the speed of her skis, which brought her literally neck-and-neck with Naeslund at the very finish line, with only a photo finish being able to prove that Smith had earned her fourth golden crown here in Sunny Valley, and her 29thWorld Cup victory.

This, ladies and gentlemen, was the tightest photo finish and the toughest, longest battle of the season, for sure. This…is ski cross!

“I am so happy, it’s always so nice to race here and today was amazing, just to feel some special atmosphere with this amazing crowd on site and along the course was really great,” a happy and tired Smith said.

Reece Howden back on top

On the men’s side, we saw the fastest qualifier Terence Tchiknavorian (FRA), World Cup winner Reece Howden (CAN), Switzerland’s Joos Berry and for the first time ever Japan’s Ryo Sugai in the start gate.

With having missed the podium twice in Bakuriani (GEO), one could see Howden’s determination for the win at each and every heat of the day. Once the gate dropped, Howden shot out like a rocket, getting way ahead of the rest of the gentlemen.

Berry and Sugai were the ones to watch for the battle over second and third position, while Tchiknavorian was in fourth and didn’t seem to be able to catch up. The Swiss was ahead of the Japanese athlete, but after a roller section, taking the inside line into the next element, Sugai was able to get into second position.

With really fast skis, the Japanese was able to defend his line and make sure to defend his position. Only at the very bottom at the jump, which followed the last rollers, it looked like Berry could be a threat to Sugai, but in the end it was Howden crossing the finish line first with a 0.39 margin ahead of the Japanese, who claimed his maiden podium in his 24thWorld Cup start and the first podium for Japan since 2008, and Joos Berry coming in third and taking a second podium this season.

Reece Howden, the new ski cross king, commented after the competition: “I was feeling really confident going into the big final. At the first few heats of the day, I was a little bit nervous at the start, but as I made my way through the competition, the confidence came back. And standing in that start gate just now, I was feeling so good, so I just sent it and I am so happy with the result.”

The Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup here in Sunny Valley was the last one before the finals on March 21 in Veysonnaz (SUI), where only the top 32 men and top 16 women according to the World Cup standings are qualified and invited to participate. The rest of the field will be able to fight for their new chances again next season.

We can’t wait what the final competition of the World Champs season will have in store for us! Let’s find out next week. Stay tuned everybody for the grand final

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