Gagnon close to podium in best combined result yet 

Fifth place results leads struggling canadian alpine ski team

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Marie-Michele Gagnon is one of a few Canadian skiers who can race every discipline well, although she focuses on the technical events most of the competitive season. Her versatility came through in Meribel, France this past weekend as she placed fifth overall in the super combined event, making up for an average downhill time with the second fastest slalom run of the day.

"I think I did well in the downhill," she said. "There are probably some places I can clean up but I definitely improved a lot during the week (in training). My body position is better with more attack. I think I could have done better in the slalom — I couldn't get the discipline in my upper body and didn't have the extra confidence."

Fifth was Gagnon's best result this season, as well as her best result in super combined, where athletes race one run of a downhill track and one run on a slalom course.

Tina Maze of Slovenia picked up the win, her fifth this season as well as her 14th medal in total. In the overall World Cup standings she has 1,844 points, while Maria Hoefl-Riesch is a distant second with 886. Maze also holds the lead in the giant slalom, super G and combined standings, and is ranked second in downhill and slalom.

In the opening downhill races, Canadian coaches decided to give Canada's only spot to Gagnon to prepare for the combined event while giving Larisa Yurkiw a break. She placed 41st in that event, with the podium going to Carolina Ruiz Castillo of Spain, followed by Marie Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and Marie Marchand-Arvier of France.

Yurkiw also competed in the combined, but did not finish her downhill run.

In the men's World Cup at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, the men struggled. Erik Guay led the team in 22nd while Whistler's Manuel Osborne-Paradis earned some points in 25th.

Christof Innerhofer of Italy took the win, followed by Austrians Georg Streitberger and Klaus Kroell.

The Canadians were on track for better results, but the decision to shorten the course because of the conditions left less room for error.

"It's always been a good track for us," said men's head coach Pete Bosinger. "Clearly, it's not the day we expected after some decent training results."

Swette on podium at World Juniors

After a few frustrating days, the Canadians at last broke through in the grand prix team event at the FIS Alpine Junior World Championships in Quebec this week, placing third overall. Members of the team were Tianda Carroll, Mikaela Tommy, Ford Swette from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, and Trevor Philp from the national technical team. The event was a dual slalom, with Sweden placing first and Switzerland second.

For Swette, who hasn't been skiing much slalom recently, it was a nerve-wracking event.

"I was pretty nervous because I haven't skied on my slalom skis at all this past month," he said. "I just put them on and went to the top. I went into this event hoping for the best but it turned out a lot better than I thought. I'm very happy.

"I've never been to a race where there's so much energy in the start and the finish. This was one of the most fun races I've ever done."

In the women's slalom, the only Canadian to complete two runs was Laurence St-Germain in 25th.

Next up was the men's downhill. Only two Canadians cracked the top 30, William Schuessler Bedard in 17th and Morgan Megarry in 30th.

Mikaela Tommy was the only Canadian woman to crack the top 30 in the giant slalom.

Both the men's and women's super G races also took place. William St-Germain led the Canadian team in the men's event in eighth place, with Vincent Lajoie and William Schuessler Bedard placing 28th and 29th respectively. Julia Roth was the top Canadian in the women's event in ninth, while Valerie Grenier was 25th.

More next week.

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