By Andrew Mitchell
For two days in a row a Canadian athlete sat in the hot seat at Lake Louise, nervously watching as skier after skier crossed the finish line just shy of their times.
On Saturday the athlete was Manuel Osborne-Paradis, a North Vancouver skier who learned to race with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. Osborne-Paradis finished second in the opening World Cup downhill of the season. His result was topped by Calgary’s John Kucera, who won Sunday’s super G.
Osborne-Paradis was the fourth skier out of the gate, and crossed the line in a time of one minute, 50.72 seconds. It was a ragged run out of the start-gate but it was worth it as he had a sizeable lead on the previous three skiers when he brought his skis under control.
“I had a little trouble at the start but for most of the race I felt like I was seeing 20 metres ahead of normal. I just knew what I needed to do,” said Osborne-Paradis. “It was a little nerve-wracking standing there waiting for each racer to come down but what an exciting day. I’m really happy for the whole team.”
Osborne-Paradis, 22, was in the hot seat for 24 skiers, until Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel crossed the finish just 0.05 seconds ahead of the Canadian. Peter Fill of Italy was ahead of Osborne-Paradis on some of the splits, but lost some speed toward the bottom to finish just 0.14 seconds out of first place. Hans Grugger of Austria was fourth, on a rare day when there were no Austrians on the podium.
Three other Canadians cracked the top-30, a strong showing for the team. Kucera placed 14 th , the best result of his career, while fellow Albertan Jan Hudec was 17 th . Erik Guay, who won silver at Lake Louise in 2004, had some trouble finding his rhythm this year to place 23 rd . Guay missed most downhill events last year with an injured knee, but managed to place fourth in the Olympic super-G.
“It was a great result for the guys, I’m really happy for them,” said men’s head coach Paul Kristofic. “They punched through as a team and Manny’s performance was beyond what we expected. We always knew he could do it but it was great to see him do it here today.”
The Canadians continued to show how hard they worked in the off-season on Sunday, with Kucera winning the super-G with his family and friends looking on.
He made history in the process as the only Canadian male in alpine history to win a World Cup super G on home turf, and the first Canadian to win at home since Rob Boyd’s downhill victory in Whistler in 1989. He was also the first Canadian to win a World Cup super-G since Felix Belczyk took gold in Switzerland back in 1988.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said the 22-year-old Kucera. “I’ve always said if I ever win a World Cup race I want it to be at home, I want it to be at Lake Louise. The fact that it actually happened today is a dream come true.
“Of course, it was a surprise. I didn’t have any expectations until it was all over. Waiting for the results was tough, I was a little nervous waiting and watching, for sure.”
Mario Schreiber of Austria placed second to Kucera’s time of 1:29.70 by just 0.06 seconds, while Patrik Jaerbyn of Sweden was third in 1:29.98.
Erik Guay had a solid run to place sixth, while his younger brother Stefan placed 25 th and Jan Hudec 27 th to round out the top-30.
As well as pride, better starting positions, and berths in the World Championships, podium results will equal money for both Osborne-Paradis and Kucera. Each World Cup has a prize purse of 100,000 Swiss Francs, which equals roughly $94,000 Cdn. All skiers in the top-10 receive a share of the money.
For winning the downhill, Kucera will receive $28,000 Cdn in prize money and the use of a new vehicle for a year from Pontiac GMC — a huge improvement over the 1986 Honda Civic he drove to the competition.
Osborne-Paradis earned roughly $18,700 Cdn in prize money for second place.
Athletes usually have performance incentives from major sponsors as well, although it’s unknown what that might amount to for either athlete.
The men’s team is heading to Beaver Creek, Colorado this week for a pair of downhill races, a slalom, a giant slalom and a super combined.
Tough week for women in Aspen
While the men’s team was celebrating two podiums, the Canadian women’s technical team had a tough couple of races in Aspen this past weekend, with none of the athletes cracking the top-10.
In Saturday’s giant slalom Genevieve Simard was 13 th with a two-run time of 2:19.91, more than three seconds back of the podium.
Kathrin Zettel and Miachaela Kirchgasser of Austria were first and third, while Tanja Poutiainen of Finland was second.
Quebec’s Brigitte Acton was the only other Canadian to qualify for a second run, placing 21 st .
Acton was the only Canadian to get a second run in the slalom the following day, finishing 18 th . Austria once again dominated with Marlies Schild and Nicole Hosp placing first and second, and Therese Borssen of Sweden third.
But while the Canadian women failed to crack the top-10 in both events, it was a minor victory for Acton to win points in the slalom.
“I’m quite happy with my race today,” said Acton. “Getting points in slalom is really good. It’s a tough course and the snow conditions were aggressive. I just tried to keep my focus and keep looking ahead.”
Slalom is one of the toughest alpine disciplines to break into, and points are critical to improve your start position.