On a team that's attracted more attention for its injury list than its skiing this year, Erik Guay has been nothing short of outstanding.
Despite a slow start and back injury, he rebounded with a downhill victory at the FIS Alpine World Championships, and on Thursday, March 11 he returned to the podium with a silver medal in Kvitfjell, Norway.
It was his 15th career medal, which put him ahead of Ken Read on the all-time medal list behind Steve Podborski, who earned 20 medals during his career.
Guay said he made one mistake that caused him to come out of his tuck, but otherwise had a good race on a course that has a little of everything.
"It's really a complete downhill with steep sections, big jumps, some flats - everybody has their strong points on the course there's a little of everything so that evens out the field and makes it even at the end," he said.
Guay said the biggest difference is experience, and getting to know the World Cup circuit's iconic speed courses - that's why skiers like Switzerland's Didier Cuche, now 38, are continuing to ski so well.
Although he came into ski racing with no intention of displacing Steve Podborski as Canada's top ski racer, Guay said that could easily happen.
"There's a good chance I will if my body sustains it," said the 29-year-old from Mont Tremblant. "I'd like to keep going to the next Olympics and maybe past it, and with the sheer number of race days between then and now hopefully I'll be able to pass him. I grew up watching the Crazy Canucks and they're a big part of Canadian heritage."
Guay has had good races in Kvitfjell before, with a super G win there in 2010 and a second place in the downhill in 2007.
Beat Feuz of Switzerland took the win in 1:47.39, with Guay following closely in 1:47.44. Michael Walchhofer of Austria placed third in 1:47.50.
It was a banner day for Canada in general; with Jan Hudec placing 10th and rookie Benjamin Thomsen posting a career-best 18th place finish.
The races continue through the weekend with another downhill race and a super G. Although Guay has no chance of winning an overall title, like he did at the end of 2010 with the overall super G title, he said his goal is to finish strong.
"The team does tend to perform better at the end of the season," he said. "Maybe it's something to do with the way we prepare in summer. It's something to look into in the future so we can peak a little earlier in the season and have a longer time on top."
The men's speed team has been hit hard this season with injuries to Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Robbie Dixon, John Kucera, Louis-Pierre-Helie, Ryan Semple and Francois Bourque. Guay said the atmosphere was pretty low after Osborne-Paradis and Ryan Semple went out on the same weekend, but it's rebounding. Guay injured his back and missed two starts, while Jan Hudec broke his hand and also missed a few events before returning.
"To be honest we were quite down after Chamonix when Manny was hurt and Ryan hurt, and we had a couple of injuries before that, and the atmosphere was not too good," said Guay. "Since then we've recruited a few young bucks that are charging hard and skiing well, so right now there's a pretty good vibe on the team. Everybody is pumped and ready to finish the season on a strong note."
Guay's silver medal also comes eight days after fellow Quebecer Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw stunned Norway with a win in the men's classic cross-country relay at the World Ski Champs. While Guay and Harvey are in different sports, Guay said he was cheering on the Canadians in that race.
"I definitely did watch that and I did cheer for Alex," he said. "Most people don't realize it, but (Nordic skiing) really is a religion up here. They love Nordic skiing. It's kind of funny because when we walked into the airport everybody was on their computers or iPhones watching the races. It's kind of like hockey in Canada."
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