The unpredictable nature of snowboard cross predictably reared its head in the women’s event as Torah Bright and Belle Brockhoff both had crashes to finish short of the medals at the Winter Olympics.
The chaotic race-based event, which sees six riders go head-to-head on a steep course with banked turns and jumps, had its share of casualties and the Australians were high on that list.
Bright and Brockhoff were seeded together in the first heat, both pushing their limits as they sought to advance to the semi-finals.
Bright, the halfpipe silver medallist, who was making history by competing in all three snowboard disciplines at the one Games was the first to go down.
But the greater concern was that she would take out her teammate. “My heart sunk, in my head I was like `I have just taken out my teammate … I am going down in the history books as the worst Australian ever’,” Bright said.
“I was absolutely devastated and when I fell and looked up and she was gone off and still on her feet I breathed a sigh of relief.”
Brockhoff, who achieved higher speeds than Bright throughout the event, rode a shrewd race and progressed through to the last 12 and the semi-finals.
She was quick out of the blocks, flitting between second and third and looked in a good position to move through to the decider when disaster struck.
Canadian Dominique Maltais squeezed the Victorian out of position, making her lose her edge and crash in spectacular fashion.
And from there the medal hopes of Australia’s most outspoken Winter Olympian, who has pushed gay and lesbian rights in the lead up to her first Games, were over.
“I am going to write her (Maltais) a very strongly-worded letter,” Brockhoff joked about the incident. Maltais apologised to Brockhoff after the race, but the Australian said there were no hard feelings.
“She just took a really tight line. She’s very aggressive on course. A little bit of a flick of her board and hit my board and I just crashed.”
Brockhoff was hoping she could recover and re-enter the race, but it was not to be.
“I couldn’t stop myself from going over the edge. I was a little bit winded but decided to keep pushing down the course. I was just thinking that if maybe if there was a crash I could get through, but that’s just racing. Everyone are such solid riders here.”
She went on to finish an impressive second in the consolation final for an overall finish of eighth.
“I’m so happy right now. It’s my best result all season. I had a crash [in the semi], but that’s racing for you,” she said of the event, which is like a downhill roller derby on snow. “You’re racing with five other girls, and that just happens.”
Bright was officially 18th. While the snowboard cross is not her strongest discipline, she raved about the event.
“I love it. Anything can happen you see people out in the lead and they just fall you see people change positions and anything can happen,” she said.
“That’s what’s great and that why it is such a great spectator sport. You don’t need to understand why a judge scored something that way you don’t need to understand the trickery.”
The final was won by the most dominant rider of the day, Czech Eva Samkova, who wears a painted moustache for luck, but did not need it because she was fast and skilful enough to get out in front and avoid the mayhem behind her.
Maltais, Brockhoff’s nemesis, took silver, while France’s Chloe Trespeuch came third.
At the Iceberg Skating Palace, Australians Danielle O’Brien and Greg Merriman have qualified for the second phase of the ice dance.
The duo scored a season’s best 52.68 in the short dance program, to music from the Cotton Club. “It was a season’s best score, and a season’s best performance,” O’Brien said.
“It felt great out there. Every time we did an element, it stuck and it hit perfectly. I knew when we were doing it that it was one of our strongest performances. To have that confirmed by the mark and then to qualify – wow,” she said.
“It’s just the icing on the cake of 15 years of dreaming, hoping, waiting and wondering what it would be like. It’s all of those things put together. It’s the best experience ever.”
The top 20 pairs in the 24-strong field progress through to Monday’s free dance section.
In other gold medals decided on day nine of competition: The men’s Super G skiing was won by Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, with Andrew Weibrecht of the United States taking silver. The bronze was shared between American Bode Miller and Canadian Jan Hudec, who recorded an identical time.
The men’s 4×10 km cross-country relay was won by Sweden’s team of Marcus Hellner, Lars Nelson, Johan Olsson and Daniel Richardsson. Russia was second and France third.
The Dutch trio of Jorien ter Mors, Irene Wust and Lotte van Beek scored a clean sweep in the women’s 1500 metres speed skating.
How the Aussies fared:
Women’s snowboard cross: Belle Brockhoff – 8th, Torah Bright – 18th
Men’s bobsleigh two-man: Heath Spence and Duncan Harvey – 26th (after runs one and two)
Pairs figure skating ice dance: Danielle O’Brien and Greg Meriman 20th (after short dance).
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