A pair of Vernon snowboardcross athletes took huge steps towards their goal of representing Canada next year at the Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics in South Korea.
Curt Minard repeated as Canadian champion in the para-snowboard upper limb category at the 2017 Sports Experts Speed Nation Nationals, presented by Mazda Canada and FA Design, at Quebec’s Mont Tremblant.
Minard ended up first overall after a pair of time trials, then won all three of his heats to capture his second national title.
“This year’s course was way more challenging,” said Minard, who won gold in 2016 at Chantecler in Quebec. He tuned up for nationals by finishing on the podium at a pre-Paralympics test event in Korea on a course similar to Mont Tremblant.
“There were lots of abrupt jumps and features at Mont Tremblant and I was thankful for the experience in Korea on a similar-style course. The first two runs in training, I got a feel for it and as I kept racing on it, it got to the point where I was just able to let it all out.”
On the same Mont Tremblant course, Hill – who competed for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia – was on his way to a second straight national title when he was passed by World Cup team snowboardcross partner Chris Robanske of Squamish.
“I was coming down the course in first place but he passed me because he had a better line than I did,” said Hill. “I was bummed because I was leading the heats all day and in the final, but he had a better line than me.
“It was a tough one to lose. Usually I have crashes near the end that knock me out of contention but with this one, I was on pace from top to bottom. But if I have to lose a Canadian title, I’m glad it was to a great guy. It’s not a shame finishing second to Chris.”
The nationals marked the end of the season for both Minard and Hill. Each will now wait for selection to Canada’s Olympic and Paralympics squad. The teams are likely to be announced in December.
“I’m pretty happy overall with my season,” said Minard, who won gold for Canada at the World Amputee Hockey Championships in Finland. “It was my first full season on the World Cup circuit and I came sixth overall. I was seventh and eighth at the World Championships and I won a Canadian title.”
Said Hill of his season: “The year started rough but I started to peak as the year closed out. Everybody – myself included – believes you don’t want to peak too early. You know, 2013 was a rough year but I got things going as the Olympics came around. I peaked for them then, and I hope to do the same thing for 2018.
“I definitely want to return to the Olympics and this time, finish on the podium.”
Hill will spend the summer returning to another of his loves – BMX bike riding – to help cross-train for the 2017-18 year.
Minard plans to work on his strength and conditioning.
“Stay fit, work with some personal trainers and try to get a few extra seconds shaved off of my times,” he said. “My category is getting super tight. The difference between third place and sixth place, sometimes, is hundredths of a second.”
Alberta’s Gerrit Van Bruggen won the national para-snowboard cross lower limb championship. Van Bruggen has family in Vernon.