Switzerland’s Talina Gentebein and Canada’s Reece Howden emerged victorious from a spectacular pair of skicross competitions at Lillehammer 2016.
A thrilling women’s competition lost one of its favourites when Swedish starlet Veronica Edebo, who shone over the previous days, was eliminated at the semi-final stage by Germany’s Celia Funkler and Zali Offord of Australia, both of whom were in sparkling form as they qualified for the final.
In the other semi-final, Switzerland’s Talina Gentebein, who had been steadily gathering momentum over the previous rounds, was too strong for Canada’s Zoe Chore and she qualified easily for the final alongside Czech skier Klara Kasparova.
In the final, Gentebein donned the red bib, awarded to the skier with the biggest points total throughout the competition. That gave her the right to choose her starting position at the line. However, in the early stages it was Offord who emerged in front, retaining the lead over the first portion of the course. However, once Gentebein accelerated she left the Australian in her wake and crossed the line for the gold. Offord took the silver, with Kasparova completing the podium.
“I can’t believe it,” said the delighted Swiss athlete. “My mum and dad are here. My mum was in tears,” she added, barely holding back the tears herself. “This means a lot to me. Winning a race like that is not something you do every day. It’s fantastic.” Offord meanwhile declared herself to be “absolutely delighted” with her silver.
Howden swaps scrum for skis
In the men’s competition, Canada’s Reece Howden won each of his five preliminary rounds, and his semi-final, to claim the red bib in the final. However, he now faced a far tougher test in the form of Australia’s Louis Muhlen, who kept him under pressure until an audacious attempt to overtake ended in a wipeout. That left Howden to make it over the finish line unimpeded. Taking the silver some way behind was Belgium’s Xander Vercammen, while Muhlen managed to get back onto his skis to finish the race and collect the bronze, since the fourth of the finalists, Matteo Lucatelli of France lost one of his skis and didn’t finish.
Remarkably, Howden only took up skicross in 2015, having previously competed in Alpine skiing races. “It’s a different type of competition,” he says. “There are four of you in the race, and you have to deal with jumps and bends. It’s action-packed and incredibly exciting! Sometimes you have to know how to be really aggressive. Winning an Olympic medal feels cool. I hope that I will be able to repeat the feat some day at the Olympic Winter Games.”
He may be a newcomer to skicross, but Howden hails from a sporting family. His mother was a Canadian rugby international, and he has inherited a love of the sport from her. “In the spring, I also play rugby with my school in British Columbia,” he reveals. “But if I had to choose between the two, it would have to be skiing!”