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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's Ashleigh McIvor shrugged off the pressure, falling snow and a fierce battle with her rivals to easily win the Olympic debut of women's ski cross on Tuesday.
As the crowd of nearly 4,400 roared and some held up letters spelling out "Go Ash Go," McIvor sped across the finish line well ahead of the pack to win gold for Canada.
She threw her arms in the air as the flag-waving crowd went wild, yelling and ringing cow bells. Then McIvor screamed, jumped up and down and pumped her fist in the air.
"This is just the most amazing moment in my entire life," said an ecstatic McIvor, who grew up in nearby Whistler. "It's in my hometown pretty much -- what more could I ask for?"
Norway's Hedda Berntsen won the silver medal and France's Marion Josserand took bronze after pre-race favorite Ophelie David of France crashed out in the quarter-finals.
The women's' debut of ski cross, a rough and tumble sport that pits four women against each other careening down a tough course of bumps, jumps and steep corners, was a success.
"I think that ski cross is really, really fun for people to watch," Berntsen told reporters. "It's action all the time. Lots of jumps and step downs and step ups and doubles (rollers). It's cool."
After a crash-filled series of heats the final was fought out between the three medalists after Austria's Karin Huttary got stuck on a hill near the start of the course.
Josserand, whose fluorescent pink helmet could easily be seen through the fog and snow, challenged McIvor about halfway through the course but the Canadian took the fastest line around the curves and flew over the jumps to stay in front.
By the time she arrived at the final two jumps McIvor was on her own and she sailed across the finish line to the roar of the fiercely partisan crowd.
McIvor's victory was especially sweet after her team mates, also among the pre-race favorites, failed to reach the finals. The strongest Canadian finish after McIvor was Kelsey Serwa who came fifth after winning the "small final."
(additional reporting by Mary Milliken)
Editing by Ed Osmond