Monday, February 24, 2014

Did Canada meet expectations in Sochi?

By on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 5:21 PM

Heather Moyse and Kaillie Humphries fly the flag at Sunday's Closing Ceremony from Sochi, putting the cap on what was a very successful, though not perfect, Olympic Games for Canada. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CANADIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
  • Photo courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee
  • Heather Moyse and Kaillie Humphries fly the flag at Sunday's Closing Ceremony from Sochi, putting the cap on what was a very successful, though not perfect, Olympic Games for Canada.

The Canadian Olympic Committee’s goal at the Sochi Winter Games was clear — win the overall medal count.

After topping the medal table with a record 14 gold medals at home during the 2010 Olympics, and capturing 26 in total, the Canadian team went into these Games hoping to build off of that momentum.

With many of the new events on the program for 2014 being ones that Canada entered with great podium potential, surpassing the totals from four years ago in Vancouver didn’t seem like an impossible goal. But with 10 gold and 25 medals in all, it ended up being one that the Canadian team ultimately fell short of.

Russia was first in gold medals (13) and total podium finishes (33). Canada’s 10 golds were third behind Norway (11), while the 25 total medals ranked the Maple Leaf-wearing team fourth after the United States (28) and the Norwegians (26).

That being said, it seems wrong to call Sochi a disappointment or a failure in any terms. Perhaps that’s because it would be somewhat dismissive of the 16 days of incredible Canadian performances that we all witnessed.

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Janyk finishes 16th; says it was his last Olympic race

By on Sat, Feb 22, 2014 at 11:37 AM

Whistler's Mike Janyk finished 16th in the men's slalom on Saturday from Sochi, then announced it was his final Olympics. - PHOTO BY PENTAPHOTO / ALPINE CANADA
  • Photo by Pentaphoto / Alpine Canada
  • Whistler's Mike Janyk finished 16th in the men's slalom on Saturday from Sochi, then announced it was his final Olympics.

Mike Janyk can leave the Olympics with his chin up, knowing that he won’t be back.

After the three-time Olympian posted a 16th-place finish in Saturday’s men’s slalom, he announced he would not be back for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.

“This will be my last Games,” Janyk said in a quote released via the Alpine Canada Twitter account. “I knew that going in and that emotion was special, and also a challenge to deal with.

“Everything, but the result, was everything I thought a Games could be. It was amazing.”

The 31-year-old actually posted his second-best finish of the season on Saturday, as well as his second-best result at an Olympics — his best being 13th on his home mountain during the 2010 Winter Games. His best World Cup result of the year came at Kitzbühel, where he was 14th.

Janyk sat 22nd after the opening run at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on Saturday and ended up posting the 12th-fastest second run. He was clearly frustrated with his finish time after the second session, but just finishing was an accomplishment on this day.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Why Marielle Thompson's gold should surprise nobody

By on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 3:30 PM

Whistler's Marielle Thompson celebrates atop the ski cross podium on Friday, with teammate Kelsey Serwa (left) and Sweden's Anna Holmlund. Thompson's Olympic gold only adds to the tremendous amount of success she's achieved in a short time. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CANADIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
  • Photo courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee
  • Whistler's Marielle Thompson celebrates atop the ski cross podium on Friday, with teammate Kelsey Serwa (left) and Sweden's Anna Holmlund. Thompson's Olympic gold only adds to the tremendous amount of success she's achieved in a short time.

In less than four years at the top level of ski cross racing, Marielle Thompson has already achieved so much. That’s why her Olympic triumph on Friday shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anybody.

Consider her accomplishments heading into her race at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park: She won Canada’s first-ever individual ski cross Crystal Globe at age 19, winning three of the final five races in the 2012 season to claim it. The six podium finishes she recorded that year are the most by a Canadian woman in one season.

She collected a junior world championship title and a world championship silver medal at age 20. And today, the 21-year-old is an Olympic champion.

In a sport where the unpredictable happens, Thompson’s consistency has been remarkable. Her victory Friday means her streak of top-five finishes remains intact, and it’s a run that has now lasted 13 major races dating back to last season.

The first event in that streak was last season’s Olympic test event in Sochi, when she was second and teammate Kelsey Serwa won. Those two skiers occupied the top two steps in Sochi again on Friday, simply trading places on the podium.

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The musings of Mike Janyk

By on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 1:22 PM

Whistler's Mike Janyk will ski in his third Olympics during Saturday's men's slalom from Sochi. The veteran Canadian team skier had lots on his mind to share before leaving for the Games. - PHOTO BY PENTAPHOTO / COURTESY OF ALPINE CANADA
  • Photo by Pentaphoto / Courtesy of Alpine Canada
  • Whistler's Mike Janyk will ski in his third Olympics during Saturday's men's slalom from Sochi. The veteran Canadian team skier had lots on his mind to share before leaving for the Games.

Whistler’s Mike Janyk has always got a lot on his mind, and he’s not shy about sharing it when you give him a chance.

The 31-year-old, who will participate in his third Olympics when he competes in Saturday’s men’s slalom, takes a thinking-man’s approach to ski racing. He’s a guy who focuses a lot of his attention on the mental side of his sport.

In my Pique feature on Janyk this week, the 2009 world championship bronze medallist talked a lot about how some of the struggles he’s faced this season and last have been a result of his mindset on race days. But he said he’s also going into these Games with a clearer head than ever before, free of the overwhelming pressure he felt in the lead-up to the Olympics in his backyard in 2010.

There wasn’t nearly enough space in the paper this week to share all of Janyk’s thoughts from our lengthy sit-down interview while he was home in Whistler for a quick stop before heading over to Europe for final pre-Olympic training. With his race now less than 24 hours away, here are some of the highlights that didn’t make the cut:

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Frustrating finish for Canadians in ski cross

By on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 11:06 AM

From left, Brady Leman, Dave Duncan and Chris Del Bosco endured a frustrating day in the Olympic men's ski cross event held Thursday. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CANADIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
  • Photo courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee
  • From left, Brady Leman, Dave Duncan and Chris Del Bosco endured a frustrating day in the Olympic men's ski cross event held Thursday.

The Canadian men’s ski cross team couldn’t have had a much more frustrating day in Sochi.

It certainly wasn’t the squad’s most disappointing effort of the season — that came at a World Cup stop in Val Thorens, France, this winter when no Canadians advanced to race heats for the first time ever.

But on Thursday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, the results were agonizing.

The Canadians looked fast in the seeding runs, all three of them posting top-six times among the field of 32 skiers to grab good positioning for the race heats.

But Dave Duncan and Chris Del Bosco, who had combined to win three of the past five World Cup events, were eliminated in the opening round after running into trouble in their heats. Brady Leman had a better day, making it all the way through to the final, but got squeezed out by a trio of French skiers and finished in the most frustrating position of all — fourth.

“We didn’t have a lot of luck today,” Canadian head coach Eric Archer told Reuters after the race. “We got into a lot of tangles… any time you get into a situation like that, you've got to scramble and that’s the nature of the sport.”

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Remembering the Canadian halfpipe ski team's humble introduction

By on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 4:39 PM

From left, Peter Judge, Matt Margetts, Justin Dorey, Mike Riddle, Sarah Burke, Trennon Paynter, Dania Assaly, Keltie Hansen, Megan Gunning and Noah Bowman gather for the official introduction of the Canadian halfpipe ski team at the GLC in April 2011. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CFSA
  • Photo courtesy of CFSA
  • From left, Peter Judge, Matt Margetts, Justin Dorey, Mike Riddle, Sarah Burke, Trennon Paynter, Dania Assaly, Keltie Hansen, Megan Gunning and Noah Bowman gather for the official introduction of the Canadian halfpipe ski team at the GLC in April 2011.

It was April 21, 2011— right in the middle of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival — and the GLC (perhaps Whistler’s busiest après spot, for the uninitiated) was packed on a sunny spring afternoon.

There were hundreds more outside the bar watching a free concert in Skiers Plaza — I think Black Mountain was the band, but it really doesn’t matter. What was happening inside the GLC that day was much more important.

It had been about two weeks since the IOC had announced it would accept halfpipe skiing as an Olympic discipline for the 2014 Olympics, which were going to take place at Russian resort we knew little about.

Towards the back of the room, crammed together at the only two tables available, were all of Canada’s best halfpipe skiers, awaiting an announcement from Canadian Freestyle Ski Association CEO Peter Judge. Standing to address the group, Judge was about to speak, but had to move out of the way for a waitress carrying an order of Ahi Tuna Crisps to some other table.

It was there, at the back of a bar, huddled around the Crystal Globe it had just won, that the Canadian halfpipe team was officially introduced and brought into the CFSA fold. It was there, over the murmur of the GLC crowd and the roar of the rock show outside, that Judge declared Canada would win two medals in this new Olympic discipline in Sochi.

On Thursday, Roz Groenewoud and Keltie Hansen have a chance to make Judge’s prophecy come true. Yet, 34 months ago, there was no way to predict the journey this team would take to get there.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Sochi's Games have been great, and that's not good

By on Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 4:06 PM

The International Olympic Committee executive board meets in Sochi days before the opening of the Games. These Russian Olympics have run smoothly, but will the IOC be able to see the bigger picture? - PHOTO BY IAN JONES/IOC
  • Photo by Ian Jones/IOC
  • The International Olympic Committee executive board meets in Sochi days before the opening of the Games. These Russian Olympics have run smoothly, but will the IOC be able to see the bigger picture?

Admit it: you were expecting Sochi’s Winter Olympics to go a lot worse.

And it’s likely that whatever bar you set for these Games only continued to go lower as they drew near.

If reports of terrorist threats infiltrating Sochi’s security perimeter, corruption that ballooned the budget beyond $50 billion and the embarrassing attitudes towards LGBTQ lifestyles set the stage, then the Schadenfreude we reveled in, as media members documented their half-finished hotels and homeless four-legged friends, looked to be Act One of an Olympic tragicomedy that would play out on the shore of the Black Sea.

And then there was the hiccup of the broken Olympic ring in the early moments of the Opening Ceremony. If The Guardian felt that Vancouver and Whistler’s Olympics were truly “the worst Games ever,” then Sochi’s were certainly going to be the worst-est.

But really, since then, what complaints can one have about these Olympics?

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Pridy's super-G 'something I will never forget'

By on Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 3:12 PM

Whistler's Morgan Pridy, seen here racing at Lake Louise earlier this season, said his top-10 Olympic super-G finish 'felt awesome.' - PHOTO BY MALCOLM CARMICHAEL / COURTESY OF ALPINE CANADA
  • Photo by Malcolm Carmichael / Courtesy of Alpine Canada
  • Whistler's Morgan Pridy, seen here racing at Lake Louise earlier this season, said his top-10 Olympic super-G finish 'felt awesome.'

When Morgan Pridy arrived at the finish of the Olympic men’s super-G on Sunday, he saw something he’s never seen before at any World Cup race: his name atop the leaderboard.

The 23-year-old Whistler native had never before finished in the top 20 of a World Cup race, but he accomplished that feat twice in his two races from Sochi, placing 19th in super combined and an incredible 10th in the super-G.

His time in first place was short-lived on Sunday. Wearing bib No. 6, Pridy grabbed an early lead that was gone by the time Italy’s Peter Fill, starting eighth, reached the finish. But for Pridy, the moment was unforgettable.

“My result felt awesome,” Pridy said in an email from Sochi. “Crossing the finish line with the green light brought on a lot of emotion, and getting to stand in the leaders’ box at the Olympics, even for a short amount of time, is something I will never forget.”

Pridy, who clinched his spot at the Games on the final day of the qualification window by posting a career-best result at Kitzbühel, Austria — the World Cup tour’s biggest men’s stop — arrived in Sochi without much pressure to perform. The Whistler Mountain Ski Club product said he wasn’t sure what to expect out of himself at his first Olympics.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hudec's bronze ends drought for alpine team; Whistler's Pridy 10th

By on Sun, Feb 16, 2014 at 9:15 AM

Jan Hudec won Canada's first  Olympic alpine skiing medal in 20 years on Sunday with a bronze in the super-G. - PHOTO BY PENTAPHOTO / COURTESY OF ALPINE CANADA
  • Photo by Pentaphoto / Courtesy of Alpine Canada
  • Jan Hudec won Canada's first Olympic alpine skiing medal in 20 years on Sunday with a bronze in the super-G.

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.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Was Canada cheated out of a medal?

By on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 10:10 AM

Tristan Walker and Justin Snith compete in doubles luge at Sochi's Sanki Sliding Center on Wednesday. Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger has accused Russian officials of tampering with the track, keeping Walker and Snith's relay team off the podium. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CANADIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
  • Photo courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee
  • Tristan Walker and Justin Snith compete in doubles luge at Sochi's Sanki Sliding Center on Wednesday. Canadian head coach Wolfgang Staudinger has accused Russian officials of tampering with the track, keeping Walker and Snith's relay team off the podium.

Wolfgang Staudinger has been at the helm of the Canadian luge team since 2007, and has been one of the big reasons why his athletes posted the country’s best results at any Olympic Games in Sochi this week.

“Staudi,” as he’s known around the track, hails from the luge mecca of Königssee, Germany, and has been involved with the sport for decades. He won a bronze medal for West Germany in doubles at the 1988 Games in Calgary and is one of the sport’s brightest minds.

So when he goes to the media with allegations of cheating at an Olympic Games, I’m inclined to listen.

After Staudinger’s relay team endured a disappointing fourth-place finish — Canada’s third time finishing with the wooden medal in luge at these Games, after Alex Gough’s fourth in women’s racing and Tristan Walker and Justin Snith finished in the same spot for doubles — he told the Toronto Star’s Kerry Gillespie he believed the track may have been tampered with.

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