Brady Leman Interview | We Meet the Canadian Ski Cross Star Out to End His Olympic Hoodoo in South Korea
After a fourth-place finish in Sochi, Brady Leman is now chasing a podium spot in PyeongChang...
We’ve teamed up with Dainese to shine a spotlight on luminaries from across the world of action sports and adventure – from big name athletes to epic events that showcase ambition and achievement that goes above and beyond the norm. Brady Leman is a Canadian ski-cross athlete who finished fourth in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Now he's chasing a podium spot and a medal at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang.
“It didn’t feel like just another race, and that was probably part of the problem in the finals in Russia."
The voice is that of Canadian ski cross star Brady Leman. He’s speaking about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, after which he found himself in possibly the most frustrating spot in the competition - fourth place.
There aren’t too many Olympics sports where the three medal spots are ultimately decided by a one-run smash-and-grab final featuring four athletes, but then again, there aren’t many Olympic sports as gripping as ski cross.
The format sees 32 athletes seeded through timed runs on the freestyle-race course at the start of the event. The 32 are then sorted into eight races of four, where the four racers are all let loose on the course simultaneously. The top two finishers from each race then proceed to the quarter-finals, and so on until the final four meet in the medal race.
It’s a finale as cruel on the athlete who eventually misses out on the podium as it is idyllic for the other three.
Leman was the unlucky fourth in Sochi. The Canadian won each of his heats up to that point - including finishing first ahead of eventual silver-medallist Arnaud Bovolenta in both the quarter and semi-finals - but couldn’t maintain that form for the run that mattered. Facing up against three French rivals, the two-time X-Game medallist had a tough start before falling back to fourth and crashing out to see the podium draped in le tricolore.
After his so-close-yet-so-far moment in Sochi, Brady is hoping it will be third time lucky when he takes to the track in PyeongChang on 21 February 2018.
“It’s the whole lead up to the Games when you realise it’s not just another race," Brady tells us.
“There are people you haven’t seen in five years sending you messages wishing you well."
“There’s so much more hype around it. There’s media like crazy. There’s so many logistic things and everyone watching at home and people you haven’t seen in five years sending you messages wishing you well. It’s awesome exposure for our sport - every Games it does really well on TV and gives a lot of people the chance to watch who wouldn’t normally watch, which then carries on going into the World Cup season.
“You just have to be able to manage all that and bring yourself back down [when you compete]."
That said, there’s nothing like disappointment at the Winter Olympics to teach you that success, and in particular success at the Games, does not define an athlete’s career.
Sochi wasn’t the first time Brady had been left frustrated by the Olympics. He was forced to withdraw from his home Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 after breaking his leg just days after securing his place in the Canadian team for the event.
“That was a tough one," he recalls. “I went up for that one last training run, got an extra bit of speed into one feature and completely overshot it. It was tough to swallow but I was able to take a lot of time off after that and it was when I came back that things really started rolling for me.
“That gave me a lot of determination but at the same time the perspective to see that the Olympics is huge for us but it’s not everything. There’s only so much you can do on that day and as badly as I wanted to compete in the Olympics in Vancouver it wasn’t meant to be. I was just going to make sure that I actually got there and got through to the event in Russia.
“Going into this Games [in PyeongChang] I know now I have what it takes to get to that final and I know that if I performed well in Russia it could have gone differently, so I’m not really feeling any pressure to get any redemption or to build up from that fourth place.
“I’m focusing more on the momentum I created last season with a whole bunch of good results and staying in that relaxed headspace that I was in last year that allowed me to ski fast. And now I know having been there twice what’s it’s going to be like - I know how much extra pressure there’s going to be, I know what the Olympic atmosphere is going to feel like, so there’s no surprises anymore, and I know that if things don’t necessarily go my way it’s not the end of the world.
“It would still be a big disappointment but there is life and a career in ski racing after disappointment at the Olympics."
Competing in the Olympics has been the culmination of a life in skiing for Brady. Both of Leman’s parents worked on a ski hill, and he grew up racing alpine from a young age and spending his free time skiing powder.
Though he was a contender in alpine, his love of skiing spanned across disciplines and so it was inevitable that once ski cross became an Olympic sport, making it substantially more viable as a choice of career, Brady would gravitate towards it.
“I know what the Olympic atmosphere is going to feel like, so there’s no surprises anymore."
“I had always watched the sport but before it was named in the Olympics it wasn’t super realistic to do it full time," he says. “People did it but you had to be on a pro team and pay for it yourself and there was only a handful of guys who were able to make it full time.
“Canada was pretty quick to start up a team after the announcement though and in the second year of Canada having a national team I switched over from alpine to ski cross."
Though there was a lot to learn after changing disciplines, a life on skis set Brady up for most of it naturally - and the rest he learned through trial, error and an abundance of training.
“I was always kind of comfortable making a pass [overtaking another skier] but it was the tactical side of things that I really struggled with when I first switched to ski cross - finding the mindset and figuring out where to make passes and trying not to force it," he says.
“You have to be ready to capitalise on other people’s mistakes. Also when you’re on your way down you really have to think about what’s going on behind you - how close the other guys are, which side you need to block and how much room you can leave at the gate. There are a lot of outside elements you have to be really reactive to and that you can’t plan for as well.
“It’s exciting to watch. I love watching alpine but without the clock you can’t really tell what’s going on. In our race it’s really easy to tell - the first guy to the bottom wins. It’s super spectator friendly. The races are short and sweet and just having four guys on the course at once makes for a lot more action.
"It’s just really exciting to watch."
The global audience obviously agrees. 1.82 billion viewers tuned in around the world for some part of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and that rose to 2.1 billion in Sochi. With ski cross being one of the most viewer-friendly events in the Olympic offering, you can bet that more than a few million will be tuning in again to see the ski cross finals on 21 February.
Whether they will be watching Brady Leman capitalise on a season of success and take his first Olympic medal, of course, only time can tell.
Stay tuned to our Dainese Luminaries hub for more from the world of ambition and adventure.
Next month we meet the team at Dainese who helped Emirates Team New Zealand win the America's Cup, and adapted to the biggest changes competitive sailing has seen in generations.
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