Gold and bronze.
Two medals in one event and the first time ever for Canada to medal at a Winter Universiade in snowboard cross.
The first official day of competition at the 29th Winter Universiade started off with a resounding celebratory bang for Team Canada as Will Malisch (Western; Markam, Ont.) won a gold medal in men’s snowboard cross and Audrey McManiman (Laval; Saint-Ambroise-de-Kildare, Que.) captured a bronze medal in women’s snowboard cross on Sunday afternoon.
“Honestly, I can’t comprehend it as I am so pumped,” exclaimed Malisch right after the gold medal run. “My whole strategy was to pass in the flat sections and then draft the whole way through. The last two races I was fourth and then ended up first.”
Both Malisch and McManiman had a long day at the Sopka Cluster venue as Malisch had five round robin heats to qualify for the Top 8, which he did in fifth while McManiman was third after her four round robin runs in the morning.
In the semifinals, Malisch won his heat and McManiman ended up second place for both to be able to go for medals.
In the finals, McManiman had a battle throughout and actually fell at one point yet persevered to win the bronze medal and block a potential 1-2-3 finish for the host Russian team. She was thrilled to secure Canada’s first medal of this Universiade.
“It was incredible! The course hardened up and I was surprised. I knew it was going to be hard and the Russians were competitive but I was the little Canadian that made its way,” said an excited McManiman after the race. “I’m pretty exhausted but I knew last night that it was going to be a hard day and I just took it one run at a time and gave it my all.”
Next up was Malisch, wearing his John Tavares’ Toronto Maple Leafs jersey underneath his bib, as he blazed down the course and stormed from fourth place to pass all three competitors by the three quarter post and remained in front to earn the first gold medal for Canada in Krasnoyarsk.
The amazing day was a golden and bronze way to start the Universiade as Canada did not win any individual medals at the last Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2017.
Cassandra Smith, head coach and team leader of Team Canada snowboard at this Winter Universiade, was beside herself with both medal performances.
“These races were phenomenal. There was lots of talented athletes," she said. "The team was focused and they knew what the wanted and definitely at the end, they pulled it together. Will woke up this morning and said ‘This is mine’ and he knew what he wanted and got it. (A) bronze medal for Audrey is amazing. She is a hard worker and she is an athlete to watch out for in the future.”
In addition, Canada had another Top 10 performance in snowboard cross as Fanny Girardin (Laval; St-basile-le-grand, Que.) placed 10th in the women’s event.
Canada won a total of three medals at the 2017 Winter Universiade. With both curling teams (women’s and men’s) and hockey (women’s and men’s) still in round robin action, there is a potential to pass that mark in 2019. The snowboard team will also compete next in men’s giant slalom and women’s slopestyle later in the week.
Malisch tried to sum up what he had accomplished after only being on a hill three times this year before arriving in Russia.
“It is unbelievable. I hope that somewhere I can train athletes and maybe come back to defend this title in two years in Switzerland. I hope this win is an inspiration for the next snowboard cross athlete in Canada.”