It’s incredible how the tiniest fractions of seconds can mean the difference between success and failure in alpine racing.
In Whistler in 2010, Erik Guay was three-hundredths of a second from the podium in the Olympic men’s super-G, but settled for his second fifth-place finish of the Games.
At Sestriere in 2006, one-tenth was the difference for Guay in a fourth-place super-G finish. In the women’s event at those same Olympics, Kelly Vanderbeek was three-hundredths from bronze.
There have been so many close calls at the Olympics for Canada since Edi Podivinsky captured downhill bronze at the Lillehammer Games in 1994. But close wasn’t enough to end an Olympic medal drought that stood at 20 years heading into Sochi.
So perhaps it was fitting that Canada snapped the skid on Sunday by the slimmest of margins.
After burying a Lucky Loonie at the finish line, Jan Hudec tied for the bronze medal in the men’s super-G, becoming just the third Canadian man to reach an Olympic podium.
Hudec finished the course in one minute, 18.67 seconds, tied with Bode Miller for third. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud captured the win at 1:18.14, and American Andrew Weibrecht charged to silver from the 29th start position, bumping Hudec and Miller down to the bronze deadlock.
Whistler’s Morgan Pridy posted an impressive 10th-place finish in just his second Olympic race, while fellow local Manuel Osborne-Paradis finished 24th. Guay did not finish.
If Hudec was a hundredth late to the finish line at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, perhaps we’d be talking about Canada’s inability to medal at the Olympics for 24 years and counting when the Pyeongchang Games rolled around in 2018. The tiniest fractions of a second mean all the difference.
For Guay, these Olympics will be ones to forget. He skied off course on the final pitch Sunday, and his 10th-place finish in the downhill last weekend was short of what Canada’s most successful World Cup skier was hoping on. Osborne-Paradis finished outside the top 20 in both men’s speed races, and will be frustrated with his time in Sochi as well.
But for Hudec, this historic medal — it’s Canada’s first in a men’s super-G — is another chapter in what’s been a long, fantastic career against all odds. The man affectionately known as “Panda” has endured seven knee surgeries, and just weeks ago suffered a slipped disc that nearly held him out of the Olympics altogether.
The 32-year-old now has a world championship medal, Olympic medal, two victories on the World Cup circuit and three other podium finishes. He’s been a rock for the Canadian men’s speed team, and one of the country’s most decorated.
However, what Pridy did in just his second Olympic race showed that the Canadian program will be in good hands when the Cowboys he raced with on Sunday are ready to move on. The 23-year-old started sixth and crossed the line with more than a three-tenths lead.
A top 10 at the Olympics for a skier who has just five World Cup starts in the discipline is remarkable. The best result of his career, a 21st-place finish at Kitzbühel, is what punched his ticket to Sochi. To build off of that with a dream result at the Olympics shows that Pridy has a long way to go to reach his ceiling.
Hudec will get the attention for his performance, but Pridy’s result hopefully won’t be overlooked during the celebrations.
So far, these have been Jansrud’s Olympics, as he also captured bronze in the downhill and finished fourth in the super combined, winning the downhill portion of that race. Though he came to Sochi with a GS silver from Whistler in 2010, Jansrud wasn't even supposed to be Norway’s greatest threat for the podium. That would be Aksel Lund Svindal, who’s been shut out at these Games to the surprise of many while Jansrud has thrived.
But much about the Olympic alpine races thus far have been surprising — who could have predicted two of them would end up with ties for medals? We haven’t even began the technical events yet.
Sunday was the last chance the Canadian speed team had in Sochi and Hudec delivered, lifting a five-ringed weight off the collective shoulders of everyone at Alpine Canada. It’s also a ringing endorsement for head coach Martin Rufener, who’s in his first year at the helm after previously guiding the Swiss team to Olympic and World Cup success.
But the momentum doesn’t have to end there. Marie-Michele Gagnon’s best events are yet to come, including the women’s slalom, for which she is currently ranked fourth in the world.
After so many years of wondering whether Canadian skiers could step on the Olympic podium, now the question becomes if they can do it again.