To say ski cross racer Tristan Tafel is having a good rookie season on the World Cup circuit is akin to saying grizzly bears have a small problem with trains locally.
A day before his 22nd birthday, Tafel rocketed to his first World Cup ski cross gold medal on Saturday (Feb. 25) with a breakthrough performance in Goetschen, Germany.
“I'm still in shock to be honest. I still don't think it actually happened, " Tafel told the Outlook.
After a wild ride through the quarter and semi finals, the Canadian phenom was in the No. 1 hole in the last race of the day. He led from start to finish to claim the first World Cup medal of his young career.
The Team Canada rookie beat the world with a gutsy performance. However, he modestly gave credit to his teammates and coaches for the win.
“I just want to thank my team for helping me out this season. It's their win, really. I've gotten so many tips from all of my teammates, " Tafel said.
To say he was lucky in the semi-final fails to do the scene justice. Barreling down the mountain, Tafel sat fourth when Thomas Kraus straddled a gate and took himself out, as well as Michael Schmidt. Tafel pulled out a hockey stop and narrowly missed the crash, leaping over his wayward competitors. But he had to hike upslope to the gate in order to avoid disqualification and make it through to the final.
“I had to jump over and I was like, 'Oh my God.' I hiked as fast as I could, " Tafel explained. “Sylvain Miaillier (of France) and myself made it through. It was just crazy, " Tafel said. “I have never hiked for a ski cross race. "
The Alberta Alpine alumnus lead the NorAm circuit last year and had managed one top 10 finish on the World Cup prior to Saturday's race. However, the medal finish is a big boost for the up and comer who's pushing some of the veterans on the squad.
In the final, he defeated last year's world champion, Chris Del Bosco. Del Bosco sat in second much of the run, but was beat by John Teller of the U.S.A. near the end of the course.
“It's tough when you are in second, " Del Bosco said. “I (messed up) one feature and went a little wide and Teller was right there to capitalize. It was pretty sweet to see Tristan win. "
Twenty-four hours after his win, Tafel was still flying high.
“I would have been ecstatic to have made it to a small final, so winning the final was definitely not something I was shooting for in my goals, but it just came together today. I'm really happy to share it with my teammates. "
Bow Valley residents will have a chance to see Canadian ski cross racers April 5-8 at Nakiska at the national championships.