PYEONGCHANG, KOR (March 10, 2018) — The para-alpine team was the first team to reach the podium at the PyeongChang Paralympic Games during the opening day of competition Friday, bringing home Canada’s first medal of the Games, as well as the first gold medal.
Mac Marcoux (Sault Ste-Marie, ON) won gold in the men’s visually impaired event alongside his guide Jack Leitch (Calgary, AB). The duo crossed the finish line in a blistering one minute, 23.93 seconds –– a full 1:42 seconds faster than their closest competitors. Earlier in the day, Mollie Jepsen (West Vancouver, BC) took bronze in the women’s downhill standing event in a time of 1:34.60 behind powerhouses Marie Bochet of France and Germany’s Andrea Rothfuss, clinching the Canadian Paralympic Team’s first medal of the Games.
“It’s surreal. I think we’re both still pretty numb with excitement,” Marcoux said following his winning run. “This takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the week.”
Marcoux and Leitch gained speed in the middle and bottom portions of the course, overcoming what Marcoux called “a bit of a squirrelly top section.”
“In the top, I was a little off of the line I wanted to be, but we pulled it together coming out of the top and it felt smooth and fun after that.”
Marcoux won gold in 2014 at the Sochi Paralympic Games in the giant slalom event, but the top of the podium eluded the 20-year-old in downhill four years ago when he was just 16. He won downhill bronze in Sochi.
“The Sochi downhill was exciting, but I was really inexperienced at the time and I ended up getting overwhelmed with the hype of the Paralympics,” he said. “This time around, it felt good to be able to go into the race a little more relaxed and to have the right experience under my skis. It let me go in and charge, and really just have fun.”
Marcoux acknowledged the expectations that come with being a five-time World Champion and dominating the World Para-Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit this season.
“Even though our goal heading into this race was to keep things light, there are definitely some goals that creep into the back of your mind,” he said. “I think coming out on top the first day makes it easier for us to attack the rest of the races. We just want to have fun and ski, and see what we can do.”
The medal is the first Paralympic result for guide Leitch, who said having family here is one of the best elements of the Games. Leitch has guided Marcoux since 2016, and this is his first Paralympics.
“The success we’ve had together the past couple of years has been pretty awesome, but to get this together is probably the most special result so far,” Leitch said. “Being at the Paralympics and having our families here is a pretty cool experience.”
The Marcoux and Leitch families were waiting together to congratulate their sons, embracing in tearful hugs following the race. Marcoux received an extra squeeze from older brother Billy-Joe Marcoux, who travelled to PyeongChang to cheer on his younger sibling. The two share a special bond, as Billy-Joe was Marcoux’s guide from childhood until 2016. The brothers were meant to race together in 2014 in Sochi, but a back injury pulled Billy-Joe out of competition at the last minute.
“Thank you to all Canadians who are at home watching and supporting us,” Marcoux added. “You can really feel it over here. I’ve received some great messages from home, and it’s so amazing to feel that support.”
Newcomer Jepsen, who is just 18 years old, captured bronze following a “nerve-wracking” run.
“I’m really proud to be able to represent Canada and bring home our first medal,” Jepsen said. Jepsen’s top result prior to the Paralympics came at this season’s World Cup finals where she topped the podium in super-G.
In Friday’s race, she was the first racer out of the start gate – a position that causes even seasoned veterans pre-race jitters.
“It was actually pretty nerve-wracking,” she said. “It was a little stressful being bib #1, but I’ve reviewed that course about 100 times over the past few days, so I was trying my best to stay light and happy. I was quite happy with the top section of my run. I knew I had put down something that was at least a little bit good.”
As Jepsen crossed the finish line in front of a sea of screaming fans, her nervous energy dissolved.
“It was just great to be able to cross the finish line and see the crowd. That’s something I’ve never experienced, so it was pretty cool. Now I’m really looking forward to the rest of my races. This was a great way to start moving into the super-G tomorrow. I’m looking ahead.”
Alexis Guimond (Gatineau, QC) and Alana Ramsay (Calgary, AB), both just missed the podium with fourth-place finishes, while Kirk Schornstein (Spruce Grove, AB) and Erin Latimer (Toronto, ON) were sixth. Kurt Oatway (Calgary, AB) was eighth, and Erin Latimer (Toronto, ON) and Mel Pemble (Victoria, BC) finished sixth and ninth, respectively. Braydon Luscombe (Duncan, BC) and Frederique Turgeon (Candiac, QC) were unlucky and both fell, resulting in DNFs. Neither were injured.
ALL CANADIAN RESULTS: Men’s and Women’s Downhill, PyeongChang, South Korea
1 – Mac Marcoux (Sault Ste-Marie, ON) and guide Jack Leitch (Calgary, AB) – Men’s visually impaired
4 – Alexis Guimond (Gatineau, QC)
6 – Kirk Schornstein (Spruce Grove, AB)
8 – Kurt Oatway (Calgary, AB)
DNF – Braydon Luscombe (Duncan, BC)
3 – Mollie Jepsen (West Vancouver, BC)
4 – Alana Ramsay (Calgary, AB)
6 – Erin Latimer (Toronto, ON)
9 – Mel Pemble (Victoria, BC)
DNF – Frederique Turgeon (Candiac, QC)
Click here for detailed results
NEXT EVENT: Saturday, March 10: 7:30 PM EST – Men’s and Women’s Super-G
Click here for the full Paralympic schedule
All Para alpine events are available live online at cbc.ca/paralympics or paralympic.org, with additional coverage on CBC TV, Sportsnet and AMI. In addition, anyone can broadcast the events from your own Facebook or Twitter feed by signing up at GreatnessIsRare.ca.
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