Sunday, February 6, 2011

Controversy at Freestyle World Championships

Yesterday was probably one of the most disappointing days racing I’ve ever had in my sporting career. Never did I ever imagine what was to come on finals day.

I arrived here in Deer Valley, Utah, for the FIS Freestyle World Championships just five days ago, after the World Cup in Germany. I was excited to be competing in this world event, which is held every two years. This is my second Freestyle World Championships; my first being two years ago in Inawashiro, Japan, where I finished 26th.

We were faced with tough training conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday, with temperatures as low as -26°C during the day, and under -35°C wind chill. Beautiful sunny days but bitterly cold, the coldest days Utah has on record this year in fact. We managed to get two good days of training on the track, and I was confident and excited for qualifying.

I qualified in 16th, which would have been the last qualifying place if they were to take 16 women like on World Cup. Instead they took 32 to give everyone a shot at racing finals. A bit stupid if you ask me, seeing as though there weren’t enough to have four in every heat, but I guess it’s World Championships and not a World Cup.

Yesterday was finals. There was a massive turnout, with spectators filling the entire finish area. It’s great to have people come and support an event like this. It always makes the race a lot more fun when you have people ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaaring’, and cheering you on at the bottom.

I was placed in the very first heat of the day, with Heidi Zacher of Germany (the number one qualifier and current World Cup leader) and Katrin Hofner of Austria. In the start I was psyched and ready to go. Then came the start, “Racers Ready…. bang.” The gate dropped immediately. No “Attention” and no 1-5 second hold. The start man made an unforgiveable error and dropped the gate early. Before I knew it, the two girls had pulled out of the gate and were already over the first feature before I knew what had happened. After doing work on training starts over and over with the same procedure, I definitely wasn’t expecting this!

I pulled out anyway as I figured the race would go on, and was well behind coming into the second jump. I was so riled up and angry at what had just happened that I went into ‘autopilot’ mode and just skied my heart out. By the second turn I had caught up to Hofner, and made a quick pass on her inside. It was a fight to stay in front all the way down, but I managed to hold my position and finish in second. I was so ecstatic at what I had just accomplished. From over 10m behind out of the start to second place and through to the next round in the World Championships! Or so I thought….

The Austrians filed a protest firstly about ‘contact’ in the race, saying that I grabbed Hofner (which clearly did not happen). When they were denied a disqualification, they decided to do anything they could and filed a second protested, this time about the false start. An inexperienced jury made a rash decision and awarded a re-run. I was so devastated. I had just skied the run of my life, coming from far behind with a severe disadvantage and finishing in second. Instead of going through to quarter finals, I was heading back up for an unfair re-run.

By the time I was in the gate for my re-run, I was frazzled, anxious and just angry at the situation. I wasn’t relaxed and focused like I was in the first heat. I didn’t have a great start and pulled into third. Half way down the course I straddled a gate trying to pass Hofner. Finishing in third, I was knocked out and didn’t progress to the next round.

I felt I was severely hard done by, and robbed of my chance to race in the quarter finals. But what could I do? The decision was made and the re-run was awarded. And knowing my luck, Hofner ended up in the big final, and finished in 4th place.

I ended up finishing in 17th place in the final results. Still a top 20 at World Championships, but definitely not the result I was after.

I guess all I can do now is put it all behind me. After all things like this happen in life!

I’m now looking forward to a day powder skiing in Snowbird on Sunday. That should cheer me up! I then head to Blue Mountain, Ontario, for the next World Cup.

(Some Utah love)

(Mum, Cate Sullivan (one of my first ever ski instructors) and I at the bottom of the course)

(The Australian Ski Cross Team. Anton, Matt, Sami, myself, Jenny, Marcos and Scott) 

(At the top of the course before qualifying) 

(Doing some mental visualization of the course before race run) 

(Pulling out of the start gate)   

(Jenny Owens, Scott Kneller and myself after qualifying)

(Jenny and I launching off the final jump in training)

(Ski boot testing)

(Wax room)