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By a toe: Canadian speedskater Blondin captures silver in dramatic mass start finish

Difference between gold and silver for Canadian speedskater Ivanie Blondin came down to the final straightaway sprint
Canada’s Ivanie Blondin celebrates her silver medal in the women’s mass start speedskating final at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Saturday, February 19, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Six-hundredths of a second.

The difference between gold and silver for Canadian speedskater Ivanie Blondin came down to the final straightaway sprint after 16 laps in the women’s mass start Saturday at the Beijing Olympics.

Blondin was neck and neck with Irene Schouten of the Netherlands. The Dutch skater narrowly edged the Canadian by a toe at the finish line in the final speedskating event at the Ice Ribbon.

The 31-year-old from Ottawa captured her second medal of the Games after winning gold in the team pursuit with Isabelle Weidemann and Valérie Maltais.

“It is nice to finally get an individual medal. It has been a long and winding road for me,” said Blondin, who fell in her semifinal of the women’s mass start at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. “I am just really happy at this point to bring a medal back for my country.”

Maltais, who led most of the opening laps of the mass start race and momentarily at the end, finished sixth.

The two Canadians were part of an extremely dense pack with two laps to go, setting up the sprint finish.

Maltais broke away again before Blondin and Schouten made their move from the outside.

Blondin led the final lap until the last few metres, when Schouten sprang ahead at the finish line.

Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida took bronze.

In the men’s mass start shortly before, the Canadians did not have the same success as the women.

Toronto’s Jordan Belchos was 13th and Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu of Sherbrooke, Que., came in 15th. Bart Swings of Belgium won gold.

Earlier in Zhangjiakou, Noah Bowman narrowly missed a spot on the podium in the men’s freeski halfpipe, finishing fourth.

The Canadian scored 84.25 points in his first run and an 84.75 on his second run before falling in his third. He missed bronze by two points.

The 29-year-old from Calgary was fifth in 2014 in Sochi and again in 2018 in Pyeongchang.

“It’s definitely tough. I was here to give it everything I had and I can confidently say I did that,” said Bowman. “So I’m proud of myself but it’s really hard to be here and off the podium again.”

Nico Porteous gave New Zealand its second gold in Beijing with his winning score of 93. David Wise of the United States took silver with 90.75. Fellow American Alex Ferreira scored 86.75. All three of the medal-winning scores came from the first run.

Calgary’s Brendan Mackay was ninth with a score of 65.50 in his Olympic debut. Simon D’Artois of Whistler, B.C., was 10th with a 63.75.

Strong winds at the Genting Snow Park made it difficult to land high-scoring tricks.

“Conditions were really tough and it’s frustrating that we don’t quite get to show the world our top level of competition here,” said Bowman.

Nearby at the Zhangjiakou National Cross Country Centre, the weather also affected the men’s mass start.

The ski race was reduced from 50 to 30 kilometres, with the wind blasting and the temperature hovering around minus-18 C.

Olivier Léveillé from Sherbrooke, Que., was the top Canadian in 27th. Rémi Drolet of Rossland, B.C., finished 35th. Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov took home the gold in 1:11:32.7.

Over in Yanqing, Canada’s Justin Kripps was in third place midway through the four-man bobsled competition.

Kripps, of Summerland, B.C., teamed with Ryan Sommer of White Rock, B.C.; Cam Stones of Whitby, Ont.; and Benjamin Coakwell of Moose Jaw, Sask., to post a two-run time of 1:57.38.

“It was pretty good execution. The boys pushed well, loaded clean and drove pretty well, so I was pretty happy,” Kripps said. “(We’re) going to look to come out and do the same thing tomorrow (Sunday).”

Christopher Spring of Priddis, Alta., piloted his sled to 11th, while Taylor Austin of Lethbridge, Alta., was 21st.

German sleds were in the top two positions, with Francesco Friedrich posting a time of 1:57.00 and Johannes Lochner coming in a mere 0.03 seconds behind.

Kripps and Friedrich shared the gold medal in the two-man event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

In pairs skating, Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro finished in 10th, while Eric Radford and Vanessa James were 12th.

It was a comeback performance in the free skate for Radford and James, who emerged from retirement to team up last spring after skating together on the set of “Battle of the Blades.”

While James fell on the landing of a throw, they performed with confidence and ended with smiles.

“Today, the flip didn’t go, but we’re still a very new couple,” James said. “To go out there and skate our hearts out is a huge accomplishment. And to have enjoyed it and trust our training, ourselves and each other is huge within 11 months.”

Radford, who previously won three medals with partner Meagan Duhamel and is the oldest skater in the field at 37, said this Olympics was less about winning and more about showing what was possible.

“I have each colour of Olympic medals. I have two world titles,” Radford said. “When it comes to that, we don’t have that to prove, but we have to prove it to ourselves.”

Moore-Towers, from St. Catharines, Ont., and Marinaro, from Sarnia, Ont., were sixth at last year’s world championships and had been hoping to crack the top six in Beijing. They fell short of that goal but improved from 13th after the short program to the top 10 in what’s expected to be their last Olympics.

“It’s not our best today for sure, not a career best by any means,” Moore-Towers said. “But it was a big fight today. It’s been a great career for us. We fought for everything.”

In women’s bobsled, Canada’s Christine de Bruin and brakewoman Kristen Bujnowski, who entered the final heats in fourth place, dropped one spot to fifth with a time of 4:06.37.

Fellow Canadians Cynthia Appiah and Dawn Richardson Wilson finished eighth at 4:07.52 despite flipping their sled on the final corner of their third run and crossing the finish on their side.

Neither slider was seriously injured.

“I know that crash looked a lot worse than it was. I was more upset that the crash happened than anything. Got a little bit of a shoulder bruise, but all things considered it could have been worse and I’m glad that’s the worst of it,” said Appiah. “No one has ever crashed in that spot, and I hate that that’s now under my belt.”

A third Canadian team of pilot Melissa Lotholz and Sara Villani finished 12th.

German pilots Laura Nolte and Mariama Jamanka finished 1-2 in the event, while American Elana Meyers Taylor claimed the bronze.

The Canadian Press

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