NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ashleigh McIvor has strolled down the fashion runway in New York and modeled in major advertising campaigns but when it comes to winter sport the Canadian Olympian likes to play rough.
World skicross champion McIvor will get to show off her combativeness and skills on her home snow when her sport joins the Olympic program for the first time at the Vancouver Winter Games next month.
The 26-year-old McIvor, who began skiing at her Whistler Mountain home at the age of two, lights up when asked about bringing the one-time extreme sport of skicross into the Olympic spotlight.
“Skicross is kind of like motocross on skis,” McIvor told Reuters in a recent interview about the event that combines natural terrain with jumps, rollers and banks and the jockeying of four skiers hurtling down the course at the same time.
”It’s head-to-head competition. It’s a race. Four skiers racing head-to-head down a course with banked turns, big jumps, big air, lots of action, high intensity. It’s a pretty amazing spectator sport.
”It can get rough. You’re not supposed to push or pull or cut people off but it definitely happens.
“I just try to go out there and ski my own race and pretend I don’t have three people with sharp spears on the course right beside me,” added McIvor, who once hit the runway at a New York fashion show entitled “Skiing is Sexy.”
“There are many added components that you don’t see in regular Alpine skiing. That’s what makes it such a fun sport and that’s why we’re so excited to be a part of it.”
Striving to keep the Olympics relevant to a younger audience, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added snowboard to the Games lineup in 1998 in Nagano followed by boarder-cross in 2006 in Turin.
Now skicross takes its turn at the Vancouver Games.
Competitors ski alone against the clock in the qualifying stage with the top 16 placed into groups of four for a series of knockout races. The top two in each race advance until a final group of four charge down the course for the medals.
McIvor, who placed second at last year’s Olympic test event, said getting to launch the sport into the Olympics in her hometown made it all the more special.
”It’s an amazing opportunity,“ the former Alpine skier said. ”Growing up in Whistler I skied all the time. I skipped school all the time to go skiing, to train. Just having that home atmosphere is very comforting.
“They have huge bleachers set up on the face. Even when you can’t hear it, you can feel it. When my friends and family are lining the course and at the finish it’s like the whole area is vibrating. It’s pretty cool.”
McIvor has been preparing for this moment for a long time.
“I started skiing when I was two, just down our carpeted steps into a sunken living room. I was on the slopes shortly after that,” she said.
McIvor got into skicross some six years ago and showed her grit in her first formal foray into the event.
“It was an X Games qualifier, the first skicross I did. I dislocated my shoulder in training, toughed it out and went on to win every heat and qualified for the X Games and that’s how I got into the sport.”
McIvor re-injured the same shoulder at a World Cup event last year in France. ”I dislocated it while I was winning the semi-finals,“ she said. ”It’s all right now.
“Toughness is pretty key. A lot of skicross is about managing injuries. We have a physiotherapist and a massage therapist that travel with us. It’s pretty rough and tough.”
McIvor became something of a media darling through her early skicross success.
She appeared on television specials, worked with fashion photographers and scooped up sportswear sponsorships.
This season, her coach has encouraged her to work harder in the gym and pack more muscle on to her lanky frame.
“I put on nearly 15 pounds,” McIvor said. “Coach said he had to fatten me up.”
The sport has drawn a wide range of competitors, including veterans who have thrived by using their skill and guile.
Medal favorites also include World Cup champion Ophelie David of France, 33, the mother of a nine-year-old girl, and 39-year-old Canadian Aleisha Cline, a mother of two, who won the Olympic test event at Cypress Mountain ahead of McIvor.
“You kind of have to have that skill base from Alpine skiing, from racing giant slalom and downhill and all that, plus you have to be a little bit crazy,” said McIvor.
“We reach speeds of up to 65 mph. It’s pretty extreme,” added the Canadian, whose other favorite pursuits including surfing and downhill mountain biking.
Editing by Clare Fallon