Saturday, February 8, 2014

Can Canada's alpine team end its 20-year Olympic drought?

By on Sat, Feb 8, 2014 at 12:29 AM

click to enlarge Erik Guay celebrates his 21st World Cup podium earlier this winter, a new Canadian record. He's one of Canada's best hopes to end the Canadian alpine team's Olympic medal drought, which goes all the way back to 1994. - PHOTO BY PENTAPHOTO / ALPINE CANADA
  • Photo by Pentaphoto / Alpine Canada
  • Erik Guay celebrates his 21st World Cup podium earlier this winter, a new Canadian record. He's one of Canada's best hopes to end the Canadian alpine team's Olympic medal drought, which goes all the way back to 1994.


Do you remember the last time Canada captured an Olympic medal in alpine skiing? It’s been long enough that the youngest member of Canada’s alpine team in Russia, Trevor Philp, wasn’t yet two years old.

He and other first-time Olympians on the team like Phil Brown and Whistler’s Morgan Pridy represent the next generation of up-and-coming ski racers in this country. But it’s one that’s never had the chance to witness a Canadian skier step onto an Olympic podium.

These Games mark 20 years since Edi Podivinsky’s bronze medal in the men’s downhill at Lillehammer — a drought the Canadian team is ready to put a stop to in Sochi.

“I feel that this generation is due for a medal,” veteran slalom skier Mike Janyk said during a stop at home in Whistler before leaving for his third Olympic Games.

In fact, it’s just about the only thing left for this team to accomplish.

The men’s team includes a group of veterans that have collectively achieved all kinds of success at world championships and on the World Cup tour, but haven’t been able to break through for some Olympic hardware.

Erik Guay and Jan Hudec are both former downhill world championship medallists, and Guay surpassed Steve Podborski’s all-time World Cup podium mark earlier this winter by claiming his 21st medal. Guay’s super-G Crystal Globe in 2010 remains Canada’s only one in alpine skiing since the downhill one won in 1982 by Podborski, the Canadian team’s chef de mission in Sochi.

Whistler Mountain Ski Club alum Manuel Osborne-Paradis has collected nine World Cup podiums in his career, and even though he has yet to record a top-three finish since returning from his 2011 injury, he’s been fourth twice in the past two seasons.

There were high expectations on the Canadians when they raced at Whistler in 2010 but they all came up short, with Guay’s fifth-place finishes in both downhill and super-G being the closest to a medal. Guay was fourth in super-G at Torino in 2006 as well.

Janyk, a bronze medallist in slalom at the 2009 world championships, said the pressure of a home Olympics can take its toll, and it’s not a challenge that was unique to the Canadian team.

“You saw that in Italy, too” said Janyk, as the Torino Games remain the only Winter Olympics since 1980 where the Italians failed to capture an alpine medal.
click to enlarge Marie-Michele Gagnon has been incredibly consistent across the disciplines this season and will be a medal contender for the Canadians in Sochi. - PHOTO BY PENTAPHOTO / ALPINE CANADA
  • Photo by Pentaphoto / Alpine Canada
  • Marie-Michele Gagnon has been incredibly consistent across the disciplines this season and will be a medal contender for the Canadians in Sochi.

If the men are unable to deliver a medal in Sochi, Marie-Michele Gagnon appears poised to win one on the women’s side. 

Heading to her second Games, Gagnon is in the middle of a phenomenal season that has included her first World Cup victory and four top-five finishes. Her proficiency across the disciplines — a rarity for a Canadian team that generally divides its athletes into speed and technical groups — has her sitting ninth in the World Cup overall rankings. If she stays there, it will be the highest overall finish by a Canadian woman since Britt Janyk was 12th in 2008.

So in Mike Janyk’s mind, it’s not a matter of if Canada will end its 20-year-medal drought in Sochi, but rather who will do it.

“Mitch (Gagnon) has been skiing phenomenal and she has got such a fire,” he said. “Erik was on fire before, he’s a big-time racer and he wants it, he’s driven. And Manny — you never know with Manny. I was chatting with him before and he’s in a good space.

“I feel like we’re due for a medal and like this team will achieve one. Who that comes through will be exciting to see.”

Downhill training runs have been ongoing since Thursday, with the men scheduled to race on Sunday. Joining Guay, Osborne-Paradis and Hudec in the field will be Invermere’s Ben Thomsen, who has stepped onto just one World Cup podium in his career, but did it at last year’s Olympic test race in Sochi. Gagnon will ski the first women’s race, the super combined, on Monday.

The men’s downhill gets underway at 11 p.m. PST on Saturday night, while the first run of the women’s combined goes at 11 p.m. PST on Sunday night. 

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