CYPRESS MOUNTAIN, BRITISH COLUMBIA Tuesday could have been a disappointing day for Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, but the Alaskan snowboarder wasn’t about to let a rough showing bring her down.
On a day when Canadian rider Maelle Ricker gave the hometown fans plenty to cheer for with her gold-medal performance, Chythlook-Sifsof couldn’t stay upright on her board.
Chythlook-Sifsof was the final rider to take her runs in both qualifying rounds of the women’s snowboard cross event at Cypress Mountain. The races were delayed two hours because of rain and fog, and even after qualifying started, there were several holds.
Chythlook-Sifsof seemed to struggle in difficult parts of the course on both qualifying runs, and she fell in places that required her to hike and took her out of contention for a finals spot. But after the race, she kept the Olympics and the things that happened on the course in perspective.
“I was pretty happy with how the event went despite the two falls,” Chythlook-Sifsof said. “For sure, it’s disappointing, but I’ve had such a good time here. It’s an amazing experience to be here. I feel like I had good starts, and I feel like if I would have stayed on my feet I could have made it.”
The Canadian rider did make it. Ricker qualified for the finals in third place and advanced from a tough semifinal heat that included American Lindsey Jacobellis, who qualified second. Jacobellis and top qualifier Mellie Francon, of Switzerland, failed to win in the semifinals.
“It was really hard today to get a clean run all the way down the course, but I just held on and did my best,” Ricker said. “I just wanted to ride my snowboard, stay upright and fast.”
Deborah Anthonioz, of France, took silver, and Olivia Nobs, of Switzerland, won bronze.
After the race, the 21-year-old Chythlook-Sifsof reflected on the Olympic experience.
“Every step of the way since I made the Olympic team has been stages of the whole thing sinking in, slowly each one building up,” she said after failing to qualify for the finals. “It brings it to today. I had a lot of fun today. I think I have a lot of Olympics ahead, so I’m not done.”
Chythlook-Sifsof grew up in a rural fishing village on the coastline of the Bering Sea and learned to ride on her brother’s hand-me-down snowboard in her grandfather’s backyard. She shared a bond with Steamboat Springs, where she trained with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club starting in 2004.
Chythlook-Sifsof came to the club, and coach Thedo Remmelink, after a national-level competition at the end of the 2003-04 season. She attended several of Remmelink’s camps that year and eventually joined the Winter Sports Club in 2005. A year later, she was named to the ranks of the U.S. Snowboarding Team, but she has stayed in close contact with Remmelink.
“Thedo and I have a good connection,” she said after the race. “He’s one of my favorite coaches. I would for sure like to keep training there.”
Chythlook-Sifsof exploded onto the national scene in 2006 shortly after being named to the U.S. Snowboarding Team. She landed on the podium in her first World Cup snowboard cross event in Japan, where she took the bronze medal.
That same year, she also won the U.S. national title and a fourth place in the World Cup snowboard cross finals in Quebec.
She has made 15 World Cup starts but missed most of last season after suffering a knee injury. She returned to competition at the start of this season and is ranked 21st on the World Cup circuit.
This is only the second time that snowboard cross has been an Olympic event. The sport made its Olympic debut at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, where Swiss rider Tanja Frieden won the event. She did not defend her title after suffering a serious injury in Stoneham, Quebec, several weeks ago. She tore both of her Achilles tendons in the race and announced her retirement shortly after the injury.
To earn the gold medal in snowboard cross, riders had to master the Olympic course at Cypress Mountain, which included rollers, boxes, jumps and several steep pitched turns.
Each rider gets two runs in qualifying before the field was cut to eight, and the remaining riders were divided into four-person heats.
Riders then must survive a series of heats, with the top two riders advancing to the next level.
A steady stream of rain and wet snow in the morning made things even more challenging for the field of 24 riders.