Canada's Reece Howden wins World Cup ski cross gold to lock up Crystal Globe

THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, Ont. — Reece Howden and Brady Leman sat down beside each other in the Craigleith Ski Club's south lodge on Friday to peel off their gear after the penultimate race of the World Cup season.

The Canadian ski cross teammates took a moment to lean back in their chairs and exhale.

Howden was riding high after a victory that gave him the Crystal Globe as overall season leader. Leman, the 2018 Olympic gold medallist, was soaking in the atmosphere at his final event before retirement.

Two champions with different emotions at a World Cup Finals neither will soon forget.

"I won in Canada and secured the Globe on home soil," Howden said. "It means a lot. I was just looking for a good result and I didn't want to leave it to the last second."

Howden, from Cultus Lake, B.C., powered out of the gate and was in control for most of the four-man big final. He held off Germany's Florian Wilmsmann for the victory and Youri Duplessis Kergomard of France took bronze.

The result gave Howden an insurmountable lead over Sweden's David Mobaerg — who was 16th on Friday — in the overall points race. It was Howden's third World Cup victory and seventh podium appearance of the season.

"He is so talented," said Leman, who finished eighth. "He's freakishly strong. He's huge and he's got a racer's mentality."

Switzerland's Fanny Smith edged Courtney Hoffos of Windermere, B.C., for the women's gold on a mild, overcast day with intermittent drizzle. Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., took the bronze.

A few hundred supporters at the bottom of the hill, many of them waving Canadian flags, roared their support at the finish.

"I think they bring an added energy and it definitely kept me going all day," Hoffos said.

Howden, who also won the Crystal Globe in 2021, said consistency, good health and a little luck were on his side this season. He also helped Canada win the Nations Cup race.

"Reece is a super-focused athlete," said Canadian coach Stan Hayer. "He knows what he wanted this year. He's not giving an inch anywhere. He put his flex on in the final there. He's unstoppable when he's on."

Sweden's Sandra Naeslund previously secured the women's Crystal Globe. She won a remarkable nine World Cup races this season.

Leman announced earlier this week that this would be his last season after a 15-year run on the national team.

The Calgary skier was squeezed out of contention early in the four-man small final, but stuck around the finish area to watch his teammate. He was the first to hug Howden after his victory.

"It's cool just to see him become a little more comfortable with the pressure, especially in the big finals," Leman said. "If he skis how he can ski, he can be as dominant as anybody in this sport. I have no doubt about that."

In addition to his Olympic gold at the Pyeongchang Games, Leman won world silver in 2019 and earned five World Cup titles over his career.

"It's hard to be on top for that long," Hayer said. "His work ethic is unbelievable."

Leman will put a bow on his competitive career Saturday on the same Collingwood, Ont.,-area course.

"It's so much more than I ever could have hoped for," he said. "It's been amazing. To be able to finish in Canada, in front of friends and family, is perfect. I'm pumped.

"It's going to be an emotional day tomorrow but I hope to cry on the podium."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press