PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - Kelsey Serwa turned to best friend and Olympic roommate Brittany Phelan in the starting gate before the women’s ski cross final and went through the ritual one more time. The Canadian teammates bumped fists then began chanting “Here we go!” in an over exaggerated accent that would sound right at home back in The Great White North.
“That’s what we need to get fired up,” Serwa said with a laugh. “It says everything in three words.”
They let their skiing do the rest.
Serwa sprinted to gold and Phelan made a daring pass midway down the course in the final to earn silver to cap a dominant performance by the Canadians in a discipline where they have set the standard. Two days after Brady Leman claimed the top of the podium in the men’s event, Serwa and Phelan gave the Canadian women their second straight 1-2 Olympic finish.
Four years ago in Sochi it was Serwa taking silver while Marielle Thompson won gold. This time it was Serwa and Phelan, who bonded quickly when Phelan made the switch from Alpine skiing to skicross after an injury-marred 2015. The try to room together when they can on the road. They train together during the summer. On Friday morning, they practically bounded out of bed at 5 a.m. and spent time before the elimination rounds began giving each other notes on the course, one that had slowed overnight thanks to a fresh coat of snow.
“In our training run before the heat started, she passed me, I was like, ‘Oh, where’s the draft? Where are you pulling in? How does it feel?’ ” Serwa said. “There’s no secret between us. We want to see each other succeed. And it worked.”
Reina Umehara failed to advance to the quarterfinals.
The 34-year-old Umehara needed to finish in the top two of her three-woman heat to move on, but ended up last behind Switzerland’s Fanny Smith and Marielle Berger Sabbatel of France.
Umehara, an Alpine skier-turned freestyler who was making her first Olympic appearance in Pyeongchang, was the lone Japanese in the ski cross.
“It’s tough to accept, but I made no major errors in the race,” Umehara said. “I did what I wanted to do. They were superior to me technically.
“I don’t think I could have done any more. I just was not good enough.”
Serwa was never really threatened in the final, going to the front early and then pulling away. Phelan’s start was more sluggish. She found herself behind Smith and Sandra Naeslund of Sweden when Smith and Naeslund made contact, briefly blunting their momentum. Phelan took full advantage, sliding past and chasing Serwa all the way to the finish.
“It was a little hairy for sure,” Phelan said.
Maybe a little too hairy. Naeslund blamed Smith for getting overly aggressive, though Smith didn’t exactly apologize after recovering to beat Naeslund for bronze.
“In ski cross we are both in this situation,” Smith said. “She push. I push. We are ski cross, we are not there to, ‘Please, I’ll let you go.’ It’s the sport.”
So is the prospect of frightening crashes. Canada’s India Sherret lost control in the air during the first round of elimination and slammed hard into one of the features. She lay motionless on the snow for several minutes while being tended to by emergency personnel. Sherret left the mountain on a medical sled before being transferred to the hospital. Team Canada officials said Sherret was in stable condition but had no immediate update on the extent of her injury.
The accident caused a lengthy delay, one that’s hardly new in an event where skiers race in close quarters over a series of jumps, turns and dips at speeds well over 65 kph.
“It’s always hard to see a teammate go down but when the race is happening you’ve got to focus on yourself,” Phelan said.
A Canadian woman has won gold in ski cross each time since the sport made its debut in 2010 and Team Canada’s grip on the top spot appears to be tightening. Canada’s prospects appeared to take a hit when Thompson clicked skis with Lisa Andersson of Sweden in the opening race, ending her bid for a second gold to go with the one she captured in Sochi.
No biggie. Phelan and Serwa took turns chasing each other down Phoenix Snow Park until there they were standing next to each other on the medal stand holding each holding one side of the Canadian flag.
Asked if the silver she earned in Sochi will be shoved to the side to make way for gold, Serwa laughed.
“They’re going to go in the same box on display for sure,” Serwa said. “Each have a different story and each to me are very significant. It doesn’t really matter the color of the medal, it’s what it represents.”