Although there wasnt a medal in it for them this year, members of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team can still hold their heads high after a two-race World Cup series at Lake Louise last weekend.
Two Canadian men Jan Hudec and Erik Guay finished in the top 15 of the downhill on Saturday, and Guay was in the top-30 of the super giant slalom on Sunday.
Hudec was the surprise of the weekend, finishing eighth in the downhill from the 62 nd start position.
"This was unbelievable, I was going for top-20 which would have been awesome," said Hudec. "When they said I was eighth I thought it was a joke. It was awesome to have this result in front of all my friends and family."
With Austrias Stephan Eberharter retiring this fall after years as one of the most dominant speed racers on the World Cup scene and past Lake Louise events, the competition was wide open. Racing fans no doubt expected to see fellow Austrian Hermann Maier back on top of the podium, completing his comeback after almost losing his leg in a motorcycle accident in 2001, but it was American Bode Millers time to declare his supremacy.
Not only did Miller take the downhill gold medal by almost an entire second in a competition where less than a second separated second place from 10 th place he came back the next day to win the super G as well. The victories were Millers first in downhill and super G and moved the 27 year old into an elite group, as he became only the fifth skier in history to record World Cup victories in all four alpine skiing disciplines.
Canadas hopes seemed to rest on the shoulders of Mont Tremblants Guay, who finished second in last years downhill at Lake Louise. Although he missed the rest of the season after injuring his knee in training just two weeks after his silver medal performance, the 23-year-old proved last weekend he was back in form with a second place finish in training earlier in the week.
Guay, starting 29 th , finished 15 th Saturday. He was hoping for better but said he was happy with the result.
"It was the first race of the year and I showed that I can ski with the best and that I can still be competitive after my injury," he said. "It was my goal to finish in the top-20 and I achieved that. Every race I try to get better but Im not at my best right now. When you place with the best skiers in the world you realize you can ski as well as they can."
He also noted the improved performance of his teammates.
"My level of confidence this year is different than what it was last year. I feel more pressure from the team than anyone else," said Guay.
Second place was claimed by Antoine Deneriaz of France, followed by Michael Walchhofer of Austria. Walchhofers teammates Hans Knauss and Hermann Maier were fourth and sixth, while Millers teammate Daron Rahlves was fifth.
Rounding out the top-25 for Canada was Francois Bourque of New Richmond, Quebec in 25 th place, half a second back of Guay. Calgarys John Kucera was 37 th and Whistlers Jeff Hume 39 th .
"When I came through and saw my time I was disappointed," said Hume. "I thought I would be in the top-30. It helps to have teammates doing well."
Vincent Lavoie crashed almost out of the start gate, foreshadowing the far more serious crash that would down the skier in Sundays super G.
In the super G, Miller was flawless once again, but the competition was closer. Maier was second, just 0.14 seconds back of Miller, while Walchhofer claimed his second bronze medal of the weekend. Johann Grugger of Austria was fourth and Rahlves of the U.S. fifth.
The Canadians got off the shaky start after they heard on their radios that Lavoie had crashed near the finish line. He was transported to Banffs Mineral Springs Hospital where he was taken immediately into surgery. He suffered a boot-level fracture of his left tibia and fibia, and will likely be out of action for six weeks or more. This is the third time the 27 year old will miss part of a season due to a leg injury.
The top Canadian was once again Guay, in 21 st place, missing the top-10 by less than half a second. He said he was upset by the news of Lavoies crash, and that it likely affected his own run.
"I was in the start when Vincent went down and I heard the radio chatter," said Guay. "It shouldnt have affected my performance, but it makes you sit back a bit. It psyched me out."
Hudec of Calgary missed the points that come with a top-30 finish by a few tenths of a second, landing 32 nd overall. Bourque was 39 th and Hume 43 rd .
Alpine Canada Alpin President Ken Read said the weekend was a success.
"All of the efforts our athletes have invested, both on and off the hill, are paying off. Each race we are seeing more Canadian athletes finish in the top-30 and it is particularly gratifying for our program when get to share these successes with our fans here in Canada," he said.
The weekend was not without controversy. Millers pair of wins has sparked a larger debate about skis, as he praised his new Atomics for giving him an edge in both races. Atomic is the dominant ski manufacturer in the mens speed events, with most of the Austrian team, Miller and Rahlves, Deneriaz, Guay and several other top finishers using the Austrian-made skis. But some skis, even the same model from the same manufacturer, are just faster than others. The manufacturers decide which skis will go to which racers, which has led some to suggest that Atomic is playing kingmaker.
The company denied this claim, pointing to the fact that skiing is not a team sport, like F1 racing, but a national sport, and they supply skis to racers from many nations.
World Cup racing continues at Lake Louise this week with the CIBC Lake Louise Winterstart and womens World Cup downhill and super G events.