Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt had overcome so many hurdles to get there you couldn’t even count them on both hands.
But her moment had finally come. She had a shot at her dream, the Olympics. She had just completed her classic sprint semi-final in second place behind Cendrine Browne and so she was moving on to the A final at CCC’s Olympics Trials at Mont Ste-Anne.
It was not to be. An official came up to her and ordered her to come up to the chalet. “What about my skis? she said, I have to get ready for the final.”
“Follow me” is what she got for an answer.
In the chalet, she was told that she got disqualified for a technical (skating) during the quarterfinals. Her life suddenly toggled into a blur.
“I’ve never had a technical or a yellow card in my career, it was weird”, said Olivia afterwards. “They told me AFTER the semi-final, as I was going into the A final, for something that happened in the quarterfinals. They showed me the video, and I don’t think it was really in infraction. They told me I could not appeal.”
Checking the FIS International Competition Rules (ICR), the sanction for skating in a sprint event is indeed quite severe (under 223.3.3, 352.2.1, 352.3.1), although in World Cup races, a skier usually receives a warning (yellow card) for a first infraction.
Such was not the case here, as it appears that after reviewing the video (which was time consuming), the jury decided that it was an infraction and one that gave her “an advantage with regard to the end result.”
Olivia was devastated.
“(At the start of the day) I felt there is no reason why I should have been competitive, due to lack of training and racing. But after my quarterfinal, where I always struggle, I got to the semi-final where I felt amazing.
“Then I thought I have a legitimate chance to qualify for the Olympic Games. And then I don’t have a chance anymore. That was the hardest part.”
Video replay is definitely a welcome addition in x-c skiing like in so many other sports, but unlike other sports, for obvious reasons, you cannot delay action in a x-c ski sprint event without penalizing the next heat of skiers ready to start in subzero temperatures. This being said, there has to be a way to treat those alleged violation faster. Providing wifi to relay videos (instead of reaching the jury by foot when an official is far away on the course) might be part of a solution?
It was a judgement call by a jury that had to be made in the fastest time possible for them. Unfair call? Depends on which side of the fence one is sitting.
But definitely frustrating for an athlete that feels she won’t have had the chance to fight all the way to the end line.
Olivia will keep fighting throughout the distance races in which she also excels, even though she’s fully aware that her lack of training due to injuries will be a handicap for her. “My best chance was in the sprint, she feels. I will do my best, that’s all I can ever do.”
That, is unequivocal.