Pressure's off for Duncan in lead-up to Sochi 

World Cup ski cross leader gets back to racing with Olympic berth in back pocket

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PENTAPHOTO / COURTESY OF ALPINE CANADA - NO SWEAT Whistler's Dave Duncan celebrates a victory at San Candido, Italy, last month. His back-to-back wins at the venue cemented his spot in Sochi, where he'll be making his first Olympic appearance.
  • Photo by Pentaphoto / Courtesy of Alpine Canada
  • NO SWEAT Whistler's Dave Duncan celebrates a victory at San Candido, Italy, last month. His back-to-back wins at the venue cemented his spot in Sochi, where he'll be making his first Olympic appearance.

As the Olympic qualifying period for the 2010 Games was about to expire, Dave Duncan's route to Vancouver was simple: get a top-five finish at the last World Cup race before the Canadian ski cross team would be finalized.

"It was a ton of pressure," said Duncan, who ended up on the podium in that race at Lake Placid. "I was able to do it and for me, it's still probably one of the greatest moments of my career, just because of the performance-on-demand aspect of it and qualifying for my first Olympics."

Unfortunately for Duncan, the 2010 Games did not end up being his first Olympics, as he broke his clavicle during official training at Cypress Mountain just a couple of days before races started. But thanks to his back-to-back wins at San Candido, Italy, just before Christmas, Duncan can ski the final qualifying races this week knowing he'll be on the start list in Sochi next month.

"I don't really have to think about these next races in terms of qualifying for Sochi," Duncan told Pique while home in Whistler over the holiday break. "There's only two races left in the qualification period, so those guys that are battling to get in, it adds a little bit of stress."

So there's no stress for Duncan this time around, and there hasn't been since the start of the winter. The 31-year-old has been taking a different approach to this Olympic year, and it's one that's paying dividends.

"Leading into 2010, I was so result-focused," he said. "I knew the criteria for the Olympics like the back of my hand. This year, I totally cast it aside and just said, 'Listen, if you ski fast, everything will take care of itself.' Luckily, that philosophy has worked so far and I'm just going to continue using it."

He'll be putting that philosophy back in action at Val Thorens, France, for World Cup races taking place Thursday and Friday, Jan. 16 and 17. The back-to-back races replace cancelled events that were originally scheduled for Germany and elsewhere in France this month.

Duncan could be forgiven for spending his time dwelling on the crash that ended his Olympic dream in 2010, but that hasn't been the case. Instead, the London, Ont., native now looks back on his last-minute injury in Vancouver as the beginning of a new journey.

"I feel like from the moment it happened it's been setting up this moment for me," he said. "You just have to take it, seize the moment and make the most of it."

This season, he certainly has. The two victories at San Candido were the first two of his career. As special as a first win is for any competitor, this one was particularly significant for Duncan because he dedicated it to the memory of Nik Zoricic, his longtime friend and teammate who was killed in a finish-line crash in Switzerland during the last World Cup race of the 2011-12 season.

"He's still with all of us on the team," said Duncan. "Everyone misses him dearly and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the guy and wish he was there. "That first victory, to me, was truly for him. So much of the celebration for me... was being able to give that to him."

Duncan and his wife made a permanent move from Golden to Whistler before the 2011-12 season and he has enjoyed some of his best seasons since, including the current one that has him leading the World Cup standings.

"Coming here, it's definitely been better than I imagined," he said. "It's much easier for me to avoid that so-called village lifestyle than I ever thought.

"There is a true sense of community here once you spend a little time and meet some people. It's an amazing community that pushes your limits constantly."

The entire Canadian team has been pushing the limit in this Olympic year, highlighted by the squad's five-medal haul at San Candido, where Whistler's Marielle Thompson, Kelsey Serwa and Brady Leman all posted top-three finishes. Duncan would like nothing more than for Canada to officially reclaim its spot as the top ski cross nation by capturing Olympic medals.

"The track (in Sochi) is great. I think it definitely caters towards the Canadian style of skiing... so I fully expect to see multiple Canadians on the podium," he said. "Hopefully we can have a weekend like we did in San Candido. That would be absolutely incredible and a joyous moment."

Meanwhile, Duncan recently joined a new team, becoming an ambassador for Wounded Warriors Canada (WWC), a non-profit organization supporting Canadian Forces members wounded in service. In particular, the group has been focused on the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I've always had a fondness for the military growing up and I just don't feel that we do enough for our veterans in Canada," Duncan said when asked why he decided to get involved with WWC. "We have Remembrance Day and that's great, but there's those 364 other days where I feel they're just not given enough support."

Duncan is currently fundraising to take part in this year's Battlefield Ride organized by WWC, an eight-day cycling trip in France from Juno Beach to Vimy Ridge that visits significant sites in Canadian military history. His personal fundraising page is located at www.tinyurl.com/DuncanRide.

"Whistler's a huge riding community, so it would be great to get some support out of Whistler through donations and maybe a few people want to go over to France and support our troops," he said.

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