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Heroes another day

Village Square deflated as Whistler skiers' quest for gold comes up short


A fevered energy and sense of anticipation gave way to disappointment in Whistler Monday as two skiers with local roots seemed to try too hard in the men's downhill.

A crowd of hundreds gathered in Village Square hoping to see Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Robbie Dixon bring home medals. But it was not to be as Dixon stumbled and Osborne-Paradis lost speed on a key turn and ultimately fell out of the medals.

Stephen Vogler watched the race from the Citta' patio in Village Square. Sitting with two friends, the author and 33-year Whistler resident hoped to see a result that would yield the biggest party in town since Rob Boyd won a World Cup race on Whistler Mountain in 1989. Vogler was at Dusty's as Boyd became an immediate folk hero. He only recalls the party faintly but he remembers the race like it was yesterday.

"I think I was at Coaches' Corner," he said. "He flew down, there was this roar following this skier down. When he won at the bottom it just went off at Dusty's, it was just crazy.

"It was just an incredible thing because no one had ever won on Canadian snow and to do it in his hometown where he grew up, he lived at the base."

Much of the same was expected Monday. Announcements of the race echoed throughout Whistler Village, aided by giant screens at the Whistler Mountain base and in Village Square, where one of the biggest crowds had gathered.

Maple leafs vied with Swiss crosses as spectators hotly anticipated a race that could have been the highlight of the Games.

Osborne-Paradis started immediately after Swiss skier Didier Defago produced what proved to be the fastest run of the day. Noise from the Whistler valley built to a roar as Manny moved into the start gate nearly 1,000 metres higher up the mountain. The noise continued to build as he kicked out of the start and skated aggressively toward Double Trouble.

He flew over bumps and knolls, maintaining his line over the top half of the rough Dave Murray course. He was tied with Defago's time at the half-way point but hit a little hole at Coaches' Corner. He was knocked off balance and lost speed just before the flats.

As Osborne-Paradis finished, more than a second behind Defago's time, silence fell over the square.

Spectators remained optimistic about Dixon's chances, but their hopes were teased and then quickly extinguished. The Whistler skier tore through a gate panel on Double Trouble, which couldn't have helped his focus. A few seconds later he caught an edge and was off balance going through the Fallaway. And then he was down. Apparently unhurt but out of the race.

Vogler said it was a good race but admitted he was disappointed.

"It was a really good race in that it was anybody's race right through the top seed," he said. "I think Manny Osborne-Paradis gave it his all, he was pushing it really hard. That's maybe why he lost an edge here and there and lost some time.

"Robbie Dixon was obviously going really hard, it was one of the most exciting runs, seeing him recover on that first near-crash and then he bit it later."

Christian Brown, an employee with Tourism Whistler's Visitor Services Team, also felt the disappointment as he watched from Village Square.

"Unfortunately it didn't turn out their way but it's amazing to see those guys and everyone's doing their best," he said. "I already got my ticket for the medals plaza and I was expecting to see them on the podium. But anyway, it happens, right?"

As for Rob Boyd, Whistler's favourite son watched the race on his phone while videotaping the athletes he coaches on the Canadian Women's Ski Team. He can't yet hand off the status of folk hero to another homegrown boy but he hasn't lost hope that he will.

"I think the best man won today," he said. "Downhill racing, there's a certain finesse aspect to it that's very important and that's what we want to get our athletes to focus on: the finesse that keeps them fast."

Osborne-Paradis and Dixon will get another opportunity to add to the local folklore on Friday when they race the super G.