Brady Leman, Canada's 1st men's Olympic ski cross champion, to retire after World Cup Finals
Canadian Olympic champion Brady Leman will take one more trip down the hill on home soil this week before officially leaving competitive ski cross at age 36.
Leman announced his retirement Tuesday morning ahead of the World Cup Finals this weekend at Craigleith Ski Club in the Blue Mountains near Collingwood, Ont.
The former alpine racer enters the competition with five World Cup victories and 31 medal podiums on the ski cross circuit over his 15 years with the national team.
"I am thankful for all that ski racing has shown me," Leman said in a statement released by Alpine Canada. "There's been so much change in ski cross from when I started to today. I guess I've been doing this a long time, but the thrill of racing, and winning, never got old.
"The biggest thank you of all goes to my parents who lit the spark that fueled this amazing ride."
The Calgary native and resident also earned 2019 world championship silver, 2016 X-Games gold and 2010 bronze, but will be best remembered for winning Canada's first-ever men's Olympic ski cross medal five years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Leman came out of the Phoenix Snow Park gate fourth behind teammate Kevin Drury, who later crashed along with Russia's Sergey Ridzik, allowing Leman to take a comfortable lead on top-ranked Marc Bischofberger of Switzerland through the finish line.
The gold medal was sweet redemption for Leman, who was fourth in the 2014 Olympic big final in Sochi, Russia.
"I was really trying not to think about it as redemption because I don't think that'd be a good mindset to have but now that it's done, yeah," Leman, who learned to ski at 18 months, told reporters at the time.
"This blows [Sochi and Vancouver in 2010] out of the water. I broke my leg the day before competition in Vancouver and then just missing the podium in Sochi was kind of bittersweet. Fourth at the Games is a big accomplishment, but at the same time you're the first guy who doesn't get a medal."
Leman returned to the Olympics in February 2022, placing second in the small final and sixth overall.
"I'd have loved to follow up a medal or win again, but I'm really proud of this race," he told reporters in Beijing. "I've had such a difficult last two years, with so many injuries and so many obstacles, and there were so many moments when I didn't think I'd have a chance to defend that medal and I did."
WATCH | Leman looks back at winning 2018 Olympic gold:
On Tuesday, Leman added: "The successes were rewarding, but I will most remember the time with my teammates whether training, competing, or just hanging out. Those memories will always bring a smile to my face and are probably what I'm going to miss the most about ski racing."
While acknowledging it's "never easy" when an athlete retires, Canadian ski cross head coach Stanley Hayer told Alpine Canada Leman's departure would be more emotional.
'My teammate and my friend'
"We spent a few years racing as teammates and the last eight years as coach and athlete," Hayer said. "The experiences that we had together are unforgettable, both on and off the hill. His results speak for themselves and his contributions to our sport will be difficult to match.
"The best thing is that Brady has decided to retire on his own terms which is rare in any sport. I will forever be grateful that I am able to call him my teammate and my friend."
Leman entered the 2021-22 campaign fully recovered from a knee injury suffered on Feb. 27, 2021, in the big final in Bakuriani, Georgia, that ended his season. Following a slow start to the season — the three-time Olympian's best result was 13th — Leman was in the silver medal position when he crashed on the second to last jump.
Leman captured a silver medal to open that season, a three-way photo finish at the Secret Garden Resort in China during the Olympic test event for his 29th World Cup podium.
WATCH | Leman second only to Sergey Ridzik in China:
Among his career highlights is a gold-medal performance from January 2019, his second victory at Blue Mountain in three years where he prevailed in the big final by 1.06 seconds over Bastien Midol of France. Leman also took the 2012 and 2017 races at the resort.
Having entered the weekend seventh in the World Cup rankings, he told Alpine Canada he felt ill on race day.
"I have a lot of confidence on this course," said Leman, who transitioned to ski cross in 2008. "Today was a bit of a mental battle for me. But as soon as I got racing, that's what mattered."
WATCH | Leman reacts to his 2019 World Cup win on Canadian snow:
A Crystal Globe as overall season champion is one achievement that has eluded the golf, mountain biking and hiking enthusiast.
Leman was third in 2016 and second the following season. When he was in position to make a charge for top spot, he told CBC Sports in 2020, Leman would get distracted and constantly glance at the standings to see how he stacked up to the competition.
"If you're worried about the overall all the time, you're not focusing race to race and that's had a negative effect on me in the past," he said.
Leman enters this week's competition aiming to build on a sixth-place finish in the small final on Sunday in Veysonnaz, Switzerland. On Feb. 26, he was seventh in the small final at his seventh world championships after collecting bronze on Dec. 21 in Italy for his 31st podium.
"I'm hoping to end on a high, so no victory-lap run for me," Leman told The Canadian Press. "I'm going to try to win right to the end."
Live streaming of the World Cup Finals from Craigleith will be available at CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.