Golden goodbye: Brady Leman wins final World Cup ski cross race of his career

Brady Leman of Canada, who is retiring from competitive ski cross at age 36, won his last race in the men's big final on Saturday at the World Cup Finals near Collingwood, Ont. (Aaron Dutra/CBC Sports - image credit)
Brady Leman of Canada, who is retiring from competitive ski cross at age 36, won his last race in the men's big final on Saturday at the World Cup Finals near Collingwood, Ont. (Aaron Dutra/CBC Sports - image credit)

Canadian Olympic champion Brady Leman couldn't have ended his 15-year career in ski cross any better than Saturday's victory at the World Cup Finals at Craigleith Ski Club in the Blue Mountains near Collingwood, Ont.

Leman, who announced his retirement earlier this week, defeated Youri Duplessis Kergomard of France and Joos Berry of Switzerland in the men's big final.

"I'm so pumped! This is the best way to go out," said Leman to Alpine Canada. "I just wanted to leave it all out there today. It was a fight every round and I battled hard the whole day. Got a little lucky in the finals but I got to put an exclamation on an amazing career. I love racing, I've always loved racing!"

"Today was crazy emotional," added Leman. "There were some tears this morning and lots of emotion but I tried to keep my focus. I'm just so happy to have my family and friends here, and to be with my teammates."

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.

WATCH | Leman skis to gold in final race:

The gold medal was sweet redemption for Leman, who was fourth in the 2014 Olympic big final in Sochi, Russia.

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."

On Tuesday, Leman added in a statement released by Alpine Canada: "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."

WATCH | Leman looks back at winning 2018 Olympic gold:

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.

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.

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.

7th at world championships

"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 entered this week's competition aiming to build on a sixth-place finish in the small final last weekend 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."

In the women's big final, it was a 2-3 Canadian finish with Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., edging teammate Britt Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Que.

WATCH | Canada takes 2 spots on women's ski cross podium:

Thompson collected bronze on Friday.

"I wanted to top what I did yesterday, and I did that so I'm pretty happy," said Thompson to Alpine Canada. "I think that I could've done a little more today but I'm happy to share the podium with Britt. She's had such a long comeback from injury, I'm super proud of her."

Last month, she earned her third medal in seven world championship appearances with silver in the debut of mixed team ski cross in Bakuriani, Georgia.

Saturday marked the first podium finish of the season for Phelan, who won silver at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She missed qualifying for last year's Winter Games final in a photo finish.

"I couldn't be happier with how it all turned out," said Phelan to Alpine Canada. "It's been a tough couple of days getting used to the bigger faster track so today I just wanted to ski the way I normally do. I tried to make good turns and to be patient, it and worked out pretty well."

In February 2020, Phelan overshot a jump in Megève, France and landed on one leg, blowing out her left knee and missing a year of skiing.

WATCH | Thompson picks up mixed team ski cross silver in Bakuriani, Georgia: