In a sport loaded with uncertainty, Sandra Naeslund of Sweden has clearly figured out how to invariably succeed. She put on a clinic Thursday in the women's ski cross big final, claiming Olympic gold at the 2022 Winter Games for her 10th major title of the season.
The two-time world champion led the entire medal-deciding race from start to finish, and earlier cruised through the bracket with wins in her semifinal, quarterfinal and eighth-final, while also clocking the top time in seeding by nearly two seconds.
"It’s always hard coming into one race when it counts the most," Naeslund said. "You've been doing well all season and here it is. I'm so happy I managed to ski well and keep the lead."
Switzerland's Fanny Smith initially finished in third, repeating her 2018 result, but after a review, officials ranked her last due to apparent contact and promoted German Daniela Maier to bronze. Smith was second to Naeslund in five of her nine World Cup victories this season.
"I just saw that Fanny had more speed than Marielle [Thompson] and she had to decide where to go and then I was losing my balance," said Maier, who tore her ACL in January 2021 and returned in the fall. "I'm really sorry for Fanny [Smith] because it's always a weird feeling. I'm so sorry for Fanny because she's a great skier. We fight that hard, we all earn a medal. But that's the result now."
Sochi Olympic champion Thompson of Canada, the only skier other than Naeslund to take first thus far at a 2021-22 World Cup, earned silver for her second career Games medal.
Naeslund, 25, placed fifth at the 2014 Olympics at 17, missing out on the big final with a DNF in the semifinals. Four years later she took fourth in PyeongChang.