John Leslie leads Canadian para-snowboarders in Sochi with seventh-place finish

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March 14, 2014, SOCHI, RUS. (ISN) – Twenty-one-year-old John Leslie of Arnprior, Ont. paced the Canadian para-snowboard team this morning with a superb seventh-place finish, as the sport of snowboard cross made its Paralympic debut in Sochi.

Leslie, the pride of Mount Pakenham near Ottawa, Ont., completed three solid runs – the best two count for total time – and enthused about his Paralympic experience afterward. Leslie’s best two runs combined time was 1:51.88.

“The experience was amazing,” said Leslie. “Everyone rode to their best, I was with a pile of friends in the beautiful sun, doing what I love to do. Couldn’t have asked for a better way to end things. I was very happy with the way I rode and the way everything worked out.”

Tyler Mosher of Whistler, B.C. placed 12th in 1:59.80 and Ian Lockey of Rossland, B.C. placed 21st in 2:10.26. On the women’s side, Canada’s only female para-snowboarder, Michelle Salt of Calgary, Alta., placed ninth in 3:21.28.

“To make history and be in the top 12 women in the world, I couldn’t be happier with my result coming out of an injury,” said Salt. “I’m starting to train for 2018 right away.”

Para-snowboard was officially added to the Paralympic Games in May 2012 after years of effort on the part of Canada Snowboard and the rest of the snowboarding community.

“It’s great to be part of the first ever winter Paralympic Games with snowboarding after 10 years of hard work developing the sport,” said Mosher. “I wish I raced better, but I did my best given the race course design and conditions. I look forward to getting back to Canada, doing nationals and getting back to work.”

Team leader Dustin Heise said the Canadian performances were about hard work and dedication to the program that Canada Snowboard put in place.

“All the athletes delivered the best that they could and I’m super proud each one of them,” said Heise, who is also Director, Sport Development for Canada Snowboard. “I’m especially proud of John and Michelle for their top placings as Canadian athletes, but both Ian and Tyler also did a fantastic job. This means a lot for the future of the sport. It’s a place for us to start, to continue to grow and excel, and we have expectations of excellence. We intend to be on the podium in a very prominent way in 2018.”

“Our Canadian athletes stepped it up,” added head coach Candice Drouin. “We trained really hard all winter and I could not be happier with the results. Sure, a podium is always nice but I’m super happy with the way they all performed. It’s a step in the right direction for the future and we’ll take this and build on it for the next few years to come.”

The U.S.’ Evan Strong, Mike Shea and Keith Gabel claimed all three medals in the men’s competition. Strong took gold with a combined effort of 1:43.61, with Shea one second behind (1:44.18) and Gabel’s combined time of 1:47.10.

In the women’s event, Bibian Mentel-Spee won the gold medal to become just the second Dutch athlete ever to win gold at a Winter Paralympics. Mentel-Spee was 10 seconds clear of Frenchwoman Cecile Cervellon Hernandez-Ep, who collected silver with a total time of 2:07.31. The USA’s Amy Purdy won bronze medal with a time of 2:14.29.

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