Athletes talk often about being in a zone when things are going good, of reaching that point where the world around you just seems to slow down and everything clicks.

The thing is, you don’t often hear it from a competitor in the unpredictable sport of ski cross, the high-speed, four-person heat racing that is part-NASCAR, part-roller derby only with balance-jarring jumps and rollers added to really shake things up. Throw in the very real possibility of ski tips catching ski tails and all kinds of havoc can ensue.

But after back-to-back wins on the weekend in Innichen/San Candido, Italy, to open the World Cup season, reigning world champion Kelsey Serwa of Kelowna was as cool as an iced San Pellegrino.

“I feel great, my confidence is definitely up there,” Serwa said Sunday in a conference call. “It almost feels easy just with all the hard work I’ve done this summer.”

After posting the fastest qualifying times for the Saturday and Sunday heat racing, Serwa, 22, breezed through three rounds each day to capture both events.

“Going into the final [Sunday], with the girl who qualified second, I was seven-tenths faster. I knew if I could win the start and get out in front, it would be hard for them to pass me. “It’s nice, even in the start gate, having a clear head, knowing you have a chance to win a race in the next minute, it just kind of elevates your spirit. To go down and win that race is even better. It’s funny, I’m not really thinking out there, it’s mostly on instinct, but everything feels like it goes in slow motion.”

The day didn’t go quite as well for the rest of the Canadian squad on Sunday. David Duncan, a London, Ont., native now living in Whistler, just missed the podium after a blood-spilling crash in the final, and top-six qualifiers Chris Del Bosco, the reigning men’s world champion, and Brady Leman both failed to advance out of the round of 32.

Duncan, who was third in Saturday’s men’s race, was involved in a three-skier crash in Sunday’s final in which he was clipped over one eye with a ski.
“My tail caught someone’s tip and three of us were flying through the air and bouncing around.”

He managed to pick himself up and complete the run with one pole, although “with blood trickling over my lens, it made visibility a little interesting.”

Serwa said her teammate was sporting a nice golf ball-sized “nugget” over his eye, a feature Duncan joked would leave him “looking real pretty on the airplane tomorrow.”

Serwa said she’s looking forward to a quick Christmas break back home — the circuit resumes in St. Johann, Austria, Jan. 6 — and bit of a busman’s holiday at Big White near Kelowna.

“You still have to have fun, right? Hopefully, the snow falls and we get some powder there,” she said of the opportunity for some free skiing with family and friends. “I love the powder. And if there’s no powder, some tree-line skiing, picking your own lines, hitting little jumps on the side, chasing friends down the hill. Just like ski cross.”

Despite Duncan’s unfortunate crash in the final and the failure of Del Bosco and Leman to get past the first round on Sunday, it was still a strong weekend for the powerful Canadian squad team.

Leman, in his first World Cup race after sustaining three fractures in his right leg since March, 2009, won Saturday’s men’s race. And 19-year-old Marielle Thompson of Whistler earned her first World Cup podium that day by finishing third behind Serwa.

And encouragingly, Georgia Simmerling of West Vancouver made her World Cup debut with a ninth Saturday and 13th Sunday, while Tristan Tafel of Canmore, Alta., competing in just his third World Cup on Sunday, was a strong ninth.

Archer said he believes Simmerling, who made the switch from the alpine team to the ski cross squad over the summer, can reach the podium this season. Now that she’s got a taste of four-skier jostling, he said, it’s just a matter of calming her nerves and learning to get out of the start gate quicker.

“She made some good moves in her heat today, passed one girl . . . and just lost by a hand length,” he said. “Just the way she skied in the heat today makes me think she’s going to be there pretty quick.”
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