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Prince George snowboard cross racer captures Olympic bronze

Meryeta O’Dine becomes the first Prince George athlete ever to win an Olympic medal.

Meryeta O’Dine of Prince George has earned herself an Olympic medal.

On the biggest sports stage, the 2015 Canada Winter Games gold medallist brought her best to the Beijing Olympics and was rewarded with bronze in the women’s snowboard cross Wednesday.

O’Dine finished third in the big final behind veteran Lyndsey Jacobellis of the United States and second-place Chloe Trespeuch of France, the Olympic bronze medalist in 2018.

O’Dine becomes the first Prince George athlete ever to win an Olympic medal.

“It’s honestly pretty surreal right now,” said O’Dine, in a CBC TV interview.

“I came in here with a pretty big mission. Of course, in this sport, anything can happen, it can be anyone’s day, and I honestly kept telling myself it was going to be my day today and I really worked everything that I could and I came in, definitely, with a lot of vengeance from the last Olympics.”

In the final, O’Dine did not get any obvious opportunities to try to improve her third-place position.

“You have to play it patient and really line it up in places that you know that you're going to pass and there are some places that I tried to run out a pass and there ended up being either no space or I slowed myself down,” she said.

For O’Dine, Wednesday’s medal result was sweet redemption after her first Olympic experience in PyeongChang, South Korea in 2018 ended in disaster before it even began. She fell in a training run and suffered a concussion that knocked her out of the competition. In 2019, a compression fracture in her spine ended her 2019 season. In 2020, her older brother Brandon died of cancer.

The 24-year-old O’Dine was third-quickest in the morning qualifying round and won her eighth-final and quarter-final rounds. In the semi-final, O’Dine was fourth out of the hole shot and was at the back of the four-racer pack while Julia Pereira de Sousa Malibeau of France led the group, with Belle Brockhoff of Australia and Tess Critchlow of Kelowna in hot pursuit.

But near the bottom of the course, Pereira de Sousa Malibeau went down and O’Dine took full advantage, moving from fourth to first. She held her lead the rest of the way and she and Brockhoff advanced to the big final.

Jacobellis led from start to finish in her run to gold. The five-time Olympian, Trespeuch and O’Dine separated themselves from Brockhoff and there were no changes in the order on the way to the finish of the Secret Garden course in Zhangjiakou.

O’Dine has struggled this season on the World Cup circuit, missing the cut in qualifying in four of the six races. She finished fourth in Montafon, Austria Dec. 10 and was fifth in the team event the following day. She also placed 10th in Cortina d’Ampezzo on Jan. 29, the last race leading up to the Olympics. O’Dine ranked 12th in the World Cup standings coming into Tuesday’s race.

Her best World Cup result came on Nov. 2, 2017 in Feldberg, Germany, where she won bronze.

O’Dine said she used psychology and tapped into her years of experience on the World Cup tour to prepare herself mentally and put aside the disappointments to focus on the reason she’s racing this week in China. She has distanced herself from the national team this season and has been training in Europe with the B.C. snowboard cross team.

“Friends and family from home, of course, were my number 1 supporters,” said O’Dine. “I’m training and traveling with the B.C. team again and it has just been all time positive vibes and great training and it’s really set me up to bring me to where I am mentally today.

 “You plan for this; you train for this for so many years. You want redemption from the last Olympics. Anything can happen in this sport, but I really wanted this today, and I’m really happy that I could make it happen.”

O’Dine wished her grandfather a happy birthday and acknowledged her hometown supporters in Prince George who gathered at the Westwood Pub to watch her in action.

O’Dine first earned her racing stripes as an alpine skier on the slopes of Tabor Mountain, a resort owned by her father, Fern Thibault, and mother, Virginia O’Dine. Before devoting herself to snowboard cross, O'Dine raced canoe kayak and took part in the 2012 B.C. Summer Games in Surrey.

Her bronze medal was Canada’s seventh medal of the Games. Canada has one gold, one silver and five bronze.

Critchlow finished sixth. Her slick inside move late in the semifinal race pushed her from third to first. In the small final, she started out fourth but moved up in the order when Stacy Gaskill of the United States fell. Critchlow then jumped to second place when Michela Moiloli, the 2018 Olympic champion, took a hard fall on the course.

In other Canadian results, Audrey McManiman of St. Ambroise de Kildare, Que., was 11th and Zoe Bergermann of Erin, Ont., was 15th.

No Canadian had won an Olympic medal in women’s snowboard cross since Dominique Maltais captured silver in 2014 at Sochi, Russia, while no one from Team Canada has captured gold since Maëlle Ricker won gold in Vancouver in 2010. The event became an Olympic sport in 2006 in Turin, Italy.

O’Dine’s podium result Wednesday in Beijing will mean she will be one of the Canadians entered in the mixed team snowboard cross event on Saturday. The men’s individual events are on Thursday. Coverage begins at 7:15 PT on the CBC Sports app.