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Olympic men's ski cross champion Brady Leman to retire

Canada's Brady Leman skis during the men's semi-final at the World Cup ski cross event at Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis, Alta., Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Olympic ski cross champion Brady Leman heads into the final races of his career with mixed feelings.

The 36-year-old Calgarian says he'll retire after the season's World Cup finals Friday and Saturday in Collingwood, Ont.

"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."

Leman is one of the reasons Canada has been strong in men's ski cross for a long time.

He claimed Olympic gold in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, Winter X Games gold in 2016, and world championship silver in 2019 during his 15 years of racing for Canada.

Three of his five World Cup gold medals were won on Blue Mountain near Collingwood. 

Craigleith's resort is the site of his swan song.

"I'm super, super-fortunate that it gets to be on my terms," Leman said.

"I don't want to end up kind of trying to scrape a couple extra seasons out and come out the other end broken and hurt. There's a lot of risk involved with this sport. 

"In any sport, even in pro sports, there's so few athletes that leave happy, leave healthy and leave when they maybe could keep going.

"That fire starting to dwindle a little bit has been a sad transition. It's been an emotional few races leading into Craigleith here. 

"I am sad to retire."

Described as NASCAR on skis, cross requires both the nerve and tactics for head-to-head racing, as well as the speed to be quicker through corners and over jumps down a course.

Leman's been a consistent podium contender in a speed sport with many variables.

He's the only Canadian man to win Olympic ski cross gold. 

Running third early in Pyeongchang's final, Leman kept his composure and his skis under him on a large jump that he used to launch into gold-medal contention.

Two competitors crashed on that same jump.

Leman immediately made a move on Switzerland's Marc Bischofberger to take the lead and hold it.

Leman was back to making finals the season after breaking his ribs and collarbone and puncturing a lung in a mountain bike accident in 2020.

He was lone Canadian to reach the men's semifinal round in Beijing's Winter Olympics last year. He placed sixth.

Leman also finished fourth behind a French podium sweep in 2014. 

Canada and Slovenia protested the aerodynamics of the Frenchmen's pants, but the appeal was denied.

"I'm most proud of my ability to be in the mix at big events for a very long time now," Leman said.

"Since the Olympics in 2014, at Olympics or world champs I only finished outside the top eight once.

"Maybe I should have won more medals because I was really close, but at the same time when it really matters, I was always on the podium or right there for a really, really long time.

"That I'm really proud of because that's not an easy thing to do."

Leman married Catherine Wood last summer. The couple live in Calgary. 

Leman isn't yet sure what the next chapter of his life will look like after racing.

He won't miss the international travel that keeps him away from home for months at a time.

Leman no longer likes the design of ski cross courses either.

"They're trying to make it safer," he explained. "The way FIS is trying to do that isn't maybe the way I would do it.

"Courses are smaller. You don't have to be good at jumps any more because there are none. You don't have to be good at doubles or rollers because they're smaller.

"It took a lot to scare me on my skis. Still does. I don't get the same rush from it now."

Leman's teammate Reece Howden from Cultus Lake, B.C., is the men's World Cup season leader heading into the final two races in Ontario.

The Canadian finished in the medals in six of 10 races so far this season, including two wins.

2014 Olympic champion Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C. ranks third among women.

Qualifying is Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press