No medals, but Canadians skiers off to a decent start 

After months of travelling around the globe in search of snow and gates, the world’s top skiers converged at Soelden, Austria this past weekend for the first men’s and women’s giant slalom races of the 2008-09 World Cup season.

On the women’s side, Kathrin Zettel of Austria placed first, earning her first career World Cup victory. She was followed by Tanja Poutiainen of Finland, and fellow Austrian Andrea Fischbacher.

Just three Canadians took part, none of them qualifying for a second run by finishing in the top-30 on the first run.

Marie-Pier Prefontaine was 43 rd after her first run, or about 0.87 seconds back of qualifying for a second run. Genevieve Simard, a World Cup medalist who missed all of last season with an injury, was 45 th . Emilie Desforges was 46 th .

“We would have liked to have seen them in the second run, obviously, but unfortunately they seemed a little nervous today and didn’t perform like they have been in training,” said Patrick Riml, director of the women’s team.

“I think Gen was especially nervous with her first race coming back from the injury, so it’s not the result we expected or wanted but now we have to focus on the next GS in Aspen (on Nov. 29).”

The men had slightly better luck, with Jean-Philippe Roy qualifying for a second run, finishing 17 th in the first run, then dropping back to 29 th after two runs. Whistler’s Robbie Dixon, Francois Bourque and John Kucera did not finish their first runs, while brothers Stefan and Eric Guay and teammate Julien Cousineau stayed on course but failed to qualify.

The men’s event went to Daniel Albrecht of Switzerland, followed by Swiss veteran Didier Cuche and American Ted Ligety. The Austrians missed the podium at home, but four finished in the top-10, led by Benjamin Raich in fourth place.

The first slalom races of the season are on Nov. 15-16 in Levi, Finland, while the World Cup speed season, downhill and super-G, opens at Bombardier Lake Louise Winterstart from Nov. 29 to Dec. 7.

While the technical athletes were racing, Jan Hudec and Gareth Sine took advantage of the wind tunnels at General Motors Aerodynamics Laboratory in Warren, Michigan to work on their form and test the aerodynamics of their equipment. This was the seventh year that GM has opened the facility to the Canadian skiers.

In that time Canada has jumped from 12 th to sixth in the Nations Cup standings, largely based on the results of its speed teams.

After falling just short of its goals for the 2007-08 season, Alpine Canada is sticking to its plan for the upcoming ski season.

In the 2006-07 season the Canadian Alpine Ski Team (CAST) broke all team records with 12 podium results and a sixth place finish in the Nations Cup. The team also managed more than 40 top-10 results.

Last season the team struggled with injuries and a lack of athletes competing in technical events. Led by the women’s ski team, CAST still won 10 medals, two short of their goal, and placed sixth in the Nations Cup, one spot back of where they hoped to be.

This year the goal is for athletes to make 14 World Cup podiums, including three gold medals. The team also hopes to increase the men’s and women’s quota spots, earn two medals at the World Championships, and finish with eight athletes ranked in the top-15 in the world en route to fifth spot in the Nations Cup.

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