Canadian ski cross stars are going for gold — and nothing less

Chris Del Bosco could have settled.

He was in the ski cross big final at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, comfortably in third place approaching the final jump.

A bronze medal would have validated Del Bosco’s leap to Team Canada. It would have meant standing on an Olympic podium on home soil (or snow, as it were). It would’ve meant history, placing third at the inaugural Olympic ski cross event.

Four years later, teammate Brady Leman found himself in a similar spot at the Sochi Olympics.

The man known as “Wombat” to teammates for his self-described short and stocky physique (“If you hit a wombat with a car you’d wreck the car, and [my teammates] all thought that if I got run over by a car, I’d put a big dent in the hood”) was in a tough position in the 2014 big final. He was competing against three French skiers who were likely to help each other out and attempt the podium sweep. 

Still, he found himself in third place with the race winding down. Given the odds against Leman, he, too, could’ve been happy with winning Canada’s first men’s Olympic ski cross medal.

Going for gold

Instead, both Leman and Del Bosco will head to February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, still looking for their first Olympic podium — and they’re OK with that.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable just settling if there was an opportunity to improve my position,” says Del Bosco, 35, as he prepares for his third Olympics.

Eight years ago, on that final jump, he tried to make one big golden move.

He crashed.

“Podiums are nice, for sure,” he says. “So if that’s where you end up, that’s where you end up. But I’m always looking for the top spot.

“Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.”

Leman feels the same way.

“We’re racing to win every time we go out there, not trying to come third or fourth or just limp it in for a medal,” says the 31-year-old as he gets ready for his second Games.

Leman made his own gutsy move in Sochi in an attempt to disrupt his French rivals.

He crashed, too.

“If you have a chance to make a pass, you gotta take that chance,” he says. “Even if it’s in a final like that.”

The 2018 Olympics, then, could provide a redemption of sorts for Canada’s two automatic qualifiers in men’s ski cross.

Still, both Del Bosco and Leman insist they won’t do anything differently if they find themselves back in the big final. It’s not gold medal or bust, necessarily, but neither veteran will be skiing to win silver or bronze.

They’ll be pushing each other toward that ultimate goal.

“When one of us is going fast, that’s when we’re both at our best,” says Leman.

Coincidental Canadian

Del Bosco has been around Canadian ski cross for a few more years than Leman, so he showed his younger teammate the ropes at the start.

But Del Bosco was one coincidence away from never racing for Canada at all.

Born in Colorado Springs, Colo., Del Bosco initially competed for the U.S. as a junior, winning national titles in mountain biking and alpine skiing. At 17, he was stripped of those medals following a positive test for marijuana and GHB, a rave drug.

Over the next five years, Del Bosco struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. He incurred three DUIs over a five-year span. One night in 2004, he was found unconscious by the side of the road, suffering from hypothermia and a broken neck.

He still doesn’t know how he ended up there.

Del Bosco, born in Colorado, almost never ended up on Team Canada.(Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In February, 2007, one of Del Bosco’s friends from the Winter X Games, Brian Bennett, was at dinner with Cam Bailey, CEO of the Canadian ski cross team, in Whistler, B.C.

Bennett had hurt his shoulder and was wearing a sling at dinner. The waitress asked what happened.

When Bennett explained that he’d hurt it at the X Games, the waitress — Del Bosco’s cousin’s wife — put it all together.

Two weeks later, Del Bosco was meeting with Bailey about joining the Canadian team (his dad is from Canada). The rest, he says, “is history.”

“That second chance doesn’t come around every day. You try to make the most of it. It’s been a pretty good ride,” says Del Bosco.

Singular focus

Leman’s journey to the Canadian ski cross team was much simpler. As with many ski cross athletes, he originally started in alpine.

But he hardly failed out. Instead, he passed up college scholarships and national funding to pursue ski cross because he enjoyed it.

Both skiers experienced a bumpy final World Cup run in Nakiska, Alta., on Jan. 20. Del Bosco finished sixth, while Leman posted the fastest qualifying time before crashing in the first knockout heat.

Now, they share a singular goal: Olympic gold in Pyeongchang.

And you can bet that neither man will settle for less.

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