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Sochi Silver: Canada's Dominique Maltais returns to snowboard cross podium

Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States crashes in the women's snowboard cross semifinal as Canada's Dominique Maltais. tries to avoid her at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

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Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States crashes in the women's snowboard cross semifinal as Canada's Dominique Maltais. tries to avoid her at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Dominique Maltais felt the joy of Olympic success eight years ago and the crushing blow of failure four years later.

She used that painful feeling to propel her back to the Olympic podium at the Sochi Games.

Maltais survived a wild semifinal run and came through with a strong effort in the final to win a silver medal Sunday at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The performance erased any lingering disappointment from that early exit in Vancouver in 2010.

"I decided to have revenge and show the world how good I can be and how fast I can be on the course," Maltais said. "The last four years I have been improving myself and focusing to get faster on that kind of track just for today.

"I made it happen today so I'm really, really happy."

Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic was dominant in her heats and never trailed in the final. France's Chloe Trespeuch was third.

Defending champion Maelle Ricker of West Vancouver, B.C., went down in the quarter-finals after trying to make a pass on a turn. She did well just to make it to Sochi after undergoing wrist surgery a few weeks ago.

Maltais won bronze at the Turin Games when snowboard cross made its Olympic debut. She was a contender heading into Vancouver but a training crash left her battered and she didn't advance to the elimination heats.

The 33-year-old rider from Petite-Riviere-St-Francois, Que., completely changed her routine after the experience with one goal in mind — redemption in Sochi.

Maltais became more proactive in all areas of her snowboarding. She changed her diet, workout regimen and training plans.

"The last four years have been like I was on a mission," she said. "Everything I was touching, everything I was eating was to be a better athlete, to get faster on that course."

Her starts weren't strong on Sunday but Maltais was aggressive when she needed to be, using her five-foot-11 frame to her full advantage. She navigated the jumps and banked turns with aplomb and exuded a steady confidence.

The six-rider heats — up from four in Vancouver — made for some wild moments on a course that was softened by the bright sun and warm temperatures. Maltais nearly got caught when American Lindsey Jacobellis went down in the semifinal, but the veteran Canadian dodged her and was one of three riders to advance.

"I was going for the inside line and when I saw her starting to slide down — which was where my line was — I was like, 'OK, I have no option. I have to go for it and we'll see what happens,'" she said. "That's snowboard cross. I was going for it."

There was no catching the 20-year-old Samkova in the final. She raised her arms in the air at the finish as a raucous, near-capacity crowd roared its approval.

Both Samkova and Maltais were elated with their performances and bearhugged each other to celebrate. An overjoyed Maltais wrapped herself in a Canadian flag and was soon singing "Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!," with friends and team officials.

She became the first athlete to win two Olympic medals in women's snowboard cross.

"Hard work pays off and I think it did today," Maltais said.

This was likely her Olympic finale but she said her snowboarding future is not in stone. Maltais holds the top ranking on the World Cup circuit and has two races left in her pursuit of a fourth straight Crystal Globe.

Ricker, meanwhile, could only watch the last few heats on the scoreboard from the bottom of the hill. She didn't have any answers after coming up short.

"I'm a little bit in shock," she said. "Some things are going to replay in my head for years to come I think. I'm not going to be able to shake this thing off very easily."

Wearing a splint on the outside of her arm, Ricker had good pulls out of the start gate in training and the opening run to determine seedings. However, the 2013 world champion struggled early in the quarter-final and couldn't recover.

"It definitely just got worse and worse as I went down the course," she said.

Ricker's plans for beyond this season are also unclear. The 35-year-old made her Olympic debut in halfpipe at the 1998 Games in Nagano.

American Jackie Hernandez suffered a concussion Sunday after a nasty fall during qualifying and didn't compete in the elimination rounds. A day earlier, Russian skicross racer Maria Komissarova sustained a serious spinal injury during training.

____

With files from The Associated Press.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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