Erik Guay's silver medal in Germany on Jan. 28 seems to have dislodged whatever was blocking the Canadian athletes from reaching the podium this season, with the men's speed team making history with a double podium at Chamonix on Feb. 4.
Guay finished just 0.04 shy of the podium in the first of two downhill races, tying for fourth place with Romed Baumann of Austria, while teammate Jan Hudec was next in line in sixth place. Benjamin Thomsen also posted the top result of his career in 11th place.
The following day Hudec jumped to the top of the podium while Guay moved up to third to take the bronze medal. Thomsen moved up to fifth place.
The results were noteworthy for several reasons. For one, it was Hudec's first podium since 2007. For another, Guay moved his own medal tally up to 17. Thomen also posted the best run of his life, despite starting way back in 50th.
It was also the first time that Canadian skiers have posted three in the top five at a downhill event, and it's the first double podium since Guay and Manuel Osborne-Paradis were second and third in Val d'Isere, France. Before that, it was Ed Podivinsky and Cary Mullen placing first and second in 1994.
"For us to have a race like this with three guys in the top five, I mean, I think we blew everyone out of the water today," said Hudec. "I think everyone who was up on the hill was either impressed or stoked for us, or both. It was incredible. It was against the odds but I think we're doing everything in our power to put ourselves in that position."
Prior to last week, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team had failed to win a medal, although athletes have come close in the top five and top 10. The women's team is rebuilding following the retirement of Britt Janyk and Emily Brydon, while both the men's and women's teams have been impacted by a string of injuries that have left most of Canada's senior athletes on the sidelines for some or all of the past two seasons.
Hudec said it's been a tough few years battling back from injuries, but he never doubted that he would be back on the podium.
"Living a life of mostly rehab can get tedious after a while and frustrating," he said. "I never stopped believing I could be back. I obviously had no idea how long it would take or when it would happen. I could just kind of smell it. To be on the podium after all these years and all these injuries is just an amazing feeling."
Erik Guay was shooting for his own gold medal, but was happy to give up the top spot to Hudec.
"If I had to get bumped back I'm glad it was a guy like Jan," he said. "After watching him on the flats it was pretty impressive. And then, to have Ben come down number 50 and to be able to put down such a solid run, I think it speaks volumes about where the team is right now and where we're heading."
For Thomsen, watching his teammates ski so well was all the inspiration he needed.
"Seeing Erik come down in the lead and then Jan taking over and having two guys on the podium made me feel I could be right in there with them — knowing that I'm fast in training and I could be close to those guys and get a top 10 result."
Thomsen won't be starting in 50th the next race. With 11th and fifth place results he moved up to 23rd in the standings. Guay is sixth in downhill and Hudec moved up to ninth.
There was also a men's super combined race. None of the Canadians took part, with the win going to Romed Baumann of Austria, followed by Alex Pinturault of France and Beat Fuez of Switzerland.
In the women's races at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, none of the Canadian skiers placed in the top 30 in the downhill. Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. took the win, followed by Nadja Kamer of Switzerland and Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein.
Things improved in the super G with Marie-Pier Prefontaine placing 16th for Canada. Julia Mancuso of the U.S. won gold, followed by Anna Fenninger of Austria and Tina Weirather.
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