O'Dine racing her first World Cup close to home

Four years into her World Cup snowboardcross career on Canada's national team, Meryeta O'Dine has never raced the big circuit on Canadian snow.

That long wait will end Friday when she races the clock trying to qualify for Saturday's individual event.

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The World Cup tour has arrived at Big White resort near Kelowna and after a week of practice on the foggy slopes O'Dine is trying to pick up where she left off a few weeks ago in Cervinia, Italy, where she finished as the top Canadian. She posted a ninth-place finish after finishing third in the small final, her best result of the season.

"It's my first World Cup in Canada, I'm pretty excited," said the 22-year-old O'Dine, among three Prince George athletes trying to qualify at Big White.

"It's (national team member Tess Critchlow's) home mountain so we're going to have a really good crowd out here. There's lots of excitement. Of course there's pressure to do good but there's also a lot of love around the whole event so everyone's going to be proud no matter what the result for every one of us."

The individual event Saturday (from noon-1:30 p.m.) and the team event Sunday (noon-1:30 p.m.) will be televised live on CBC.

O'Dine says she'll feel even more at home knowing two of the men racing at Big White - 21-year-old Evan Bichon and 18-year-old Colby Graham, are from Prince George. All three are D.P. Todd Secondary School graduates and all three attended the sports school UNBC.

"It's amazing, it makes it feel more like home when you're traveling and you have friends you grew up riding with and trained with in the gym," she said. "It's subtle things that make it easier having hometown friends around."

O'Dine is convinced the Canadian Sports School inn Prince George, now called Engage Sport North, gave each of them a competitive advantage on the snowboardcross slopes. The flexible schedule allows students the freedom to leave the city for weeks at a time to pursue their sporting goals, while also teaching them the basics of weight training, conditioning and nutrition,

"Three D.P. Todd grads and three sport school grads, it's really cool how that came together," said O'Dine. "The sport school really let us accelerate young into this sport. I'm pretty sure all three of us were in the younger Ignite programs and that just made us understand our body composition and how we can move it. Getting into a sport like this, I think we had a headstart on kids."

Big White has hosted several NorAm events over the past decade but it's been three years since O'Dine raced there.

O'Dine needs to finish in the top-16 in training Friday to make the cut for Saturday's race. Bichon, part of the Canadian development team, and Graham, a provincial team member who earned a personal spot in the World Cup, require top-32 results to advance through the men's qualifying and like the women they have two races to solidify their spots.

O'Dine started the season in Finland, Nov. 30 placing ninth in a FIS race in Pyhatunturi. The World Cup tour kicked off Dec. 13 in Montefon, Austria, where O'Dine finished 17th. Cervinia followed Dec. 21 and the race was marred by poor visibility and persistent snow which wiped out the qualifying round.

"It was snowing pretty hard and was pretty foggy and there were some features that weren't running and I just had that confidence that you know you're going to be able to perform on race day. It really helped and it really let me go fresh into it.

"I ended up third in the small final, I got wiped out on the second last berm by one of the Italian girls. She was pulling some shady moves throughout the whole day and it sucked I got pulled into that one too. But it was really fun. I love racing with six people at a time, it's way more fun. It puts on a really good show for the sport when we're all riding in close contact with each other."

O'Dine knows the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China are just around the corner, with world championships on the Olympic course scheduled for next winter.

The World Cup race in Feldberg, Germany set for Feb. 1-2 has been cancelled due to warm weather and a lack of snow. O'Dine won a bronze medal three years ago on Feldberg, her only World Cup medal so far, and she's disappointed that race was scrapped.

The fact O'Dine is able to race this weekend is somewhat miraculous. Ten months ago, the injury-plagued 22-year-old national team member from Prince George broke her back in a training race in Spain. The fall fractured her T-3 vertebra and the injury wasn't diagnosed until 10 days later after she'd been examined a second time by a doctor, who insisted on an MRI scan which revealed the break. By that time she'd already resumed training in the gym without pain and it was only when she tried to snowboard again that she knew something was wrong.

"They were pretty happy I didn't try to race because the break was on the inside of my spine and that could have been pretty bad if I broke it even more," she said.

O'Dine has had five concussions as a result of snowboard wrecks but each time she's followed the protocol for recovery with lots of sleep and proper nutrition and has not tried to get back to racing too early.

The Canadian team will return to Big White next weekend for a NorAm race. Big White is also the site of the national championships, March 18-22.

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