A split-second blink of an eye.
That’s all that separated Prince George ski cross racer Tiana Gairns from a medal Sunday at the World Cup mixed team event in Bakuriani, Georgia.
Reece Howden, the Crystal Globe series points champion from Cultus Lake, did his part in the Big Final, winning the men’s race, but only by the slightest of margins. Just 16 hundreds of a second separated first from fourth.
In the mixed team event, the women wait in the start gate and the gate drops as soon as their male partner crosses the finish. Gairns hung within striking distance of the leaders for the entire race and was in third place behind Fanny Smith of Switzerland and was right on the tail of second place Sandra Naeslund of Sweden as the skiers approached the bottom part of the course.
Courtney Hoffos of Windermere, whose partner was Chris Del Bosco of Montreal, tucked into the draft and just before the final jump she made her move, passing Gairns and Naeslund for second place and a silver medal.
Said Hoffos “It was awesome just going with momentum,” Hoffos told Alpine Canada. “Del kept it close for me every single heat so it was really fun.”
“It feels awesome,” said Del Bosco. “The guys kept it tight to give the girls a shot. It was all on her, she fought all the way through the final.”
Smith and her Swiss teammate Jonas Lenherr shared top spot on the podium, while Naeslund and David Mobaerg finished with bronze for Sweden. Gairns and Del Bosco ended up fourth on what was a monumental day for Canada.
“It’s a fun event but as the second racer you feel like you have a bit more pressure but this guy set me up well each round,” said the 22-year-old Gairns, who recovered from a shoulder injury and a concussion this season and now ranks 21st in the world.
Her fourth-place result is a career best. Gairns finished eighth in the solo event Saturday, after qualifying fifth-quickest.
Howden, who clinched the points title Saturday when he finished 19th in the individual race, also liked the team format.
“It was a lot of fun, it was cool to race with someone else and have a combined event,” said Howden.
Canada continues to be one of the world’s ski cross powerhouses. Five Canadian teams placed in the top-nine in the 13-team event – the first time the team format has ever been used at the World Cup level in ski cross. Marielle Thompson of Whistler, the 2014 Olympic champion, teamed up with Jared Schmidt of Ottawa to win the Small Final. Schmidt won solo bronze on Saturday, his first-ever World Cup medal.
Zoe Chore of Cranbrook and Kris Mahler of Canmore were eighth and Hannah Schmidt of Ottawa and Carson Cook of Edmonton placed ninth.
FIS organizers plan to include the team event at the Olympics next year in China and at future world championships.
. “The team event was pretty cool, and the racing was actually really good,” said Canadian team head coach Stanley Hayer. “It was nice to pull together and rip down the course as a team. That’s how we get all of our results, we are a big team, and we back each other. To show that on the track was really cool.”
Virtually the same course will be put to the test this week when Bakuriani hosts World Cup snowboard cross racing. Meryeta O’Dine, Evan Bichon and Colby Graham, all of Prince George, are on the World Cup tour this season.