Canada's top guns roared through Thursday's qualification round at the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup in Blue Mountain, Ont., to dominate the draws for finals.
Five members of a loaded national men's team – Dave Duncan, Chris Del Bosco, Brady Leman and Nik Zoricic, plus youngster Tristan Tafel – finished in the top 32 of qualifiers for Friday's finals. On the women's side, Marielle Thompson advanced as the second-fastest qualifier, while Mariannick Therer also finished in the top 16 to qualify for her first World Cup final on Sunday.
"This is just confirmation of how my skiing's going right now. I always feel like I'm in there," said Duncan, of London, Ont., who was third fastest in qualifying and the top Canadian with a time of 1 minute, 2.99 seconds. "To come down here in third gives me a little bit more confidence going into tomorrow and hopefully I can step on to that podium again."
Duncan was third at the X Games last weekend and has taken aim on his second World Cup podium of the 2011-12 season.
"Conditions hardened up overnight so the speeds are faster and it kind of caters to the Canadians, who like to get a little bit more air and ski with a little more speed."
X Games gold medalist and reigning ski cross world champion Chris Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que. – the winner of last year's men's race at Blue Mountain – was seventh fastest Thursday after clocking a time of 1:03.22. Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta., was 16th (1:03.50), Nik Zoricic, of Toronto, Ont., was 21st (1:03.65) and Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., was 23rd (1:03.72).
Duncan, Del Bosco, Leman and Zoricic have all had podiums on the World Cup circuit this year.
"My parents are here, my friends are here, my relatives are here," Zoricic said. "This is the only chance they get to watch me compete. If I were to choose any event to win this would be the one, so tomorrow's a big day."
Tafel took part in his first World Cup qualification round here last year but missed out on the finals by the narrowest of margins.
"Last year I was six one-hundredths out of qualifying and this year I made it in. I've got some family and fans here so I'm pretty excited," Tafel said. "It wasn't too bad - I had a few minor mistakes. I didn't have quite the same pull out of the start that I normally do. I just rolled with it and tried to keep my speed going."
Whistler, B.C.'s Stan Rey just missed out on qualifying for the round of 32 when he finished 33d in 1:04.20 – just two-hundredths of a second behind 32nd place. Whistler's Davey Barr was 40th (1:04.60) and Brian Bennett, of Quesnel, B.C., was 42nd (1:04.66). Former national team member Stan Hayer was 43rd in 1:04.69.
The fastest man on the day was Austrian ace Andreas Matt (1:02.58), while Finland's Jouni Pellinen was second (1:02.92).
On the women's side, Whistler's Thompson once again looked fast on her skis as she finished second in qualifying with a time of 1:07.37. Norway's Hedda Berntsen was first (1:07.09) and Australia's Sami Kennedy-Sim was third (1:07.39).
Therer, of Saint-Sauveur, Que., has taken part in several World Cup qualification events and was overjoyed to make it through to the finals for the first time.
"I'm really excited. I'm so happy, so overwhelmed. I'm so stoked about this," said Therer, who finished 13th with a time of 1:08.70.