Record number of women qualify for World Cup start 

Season opens with a GS in Austria on Saturday

The Alpine World Cup ski season opens this weekend with GS events in Soelden, Austria, and if the starting list is any indication it’s already shaping up be a year to remember, as a record six Canadian women are qualified for World Cup giant slalom starts.

Three members of the men’s team qualified for the men’s GS race.

Allison Forsyth of Nanaimo, who was ranked fifth in the world in GS last season, will anchor the Canadian squad.

Last season, only four Canadian women entered the competition, and only Forsyth qualified for the second run. She finished just off the podium in fourth place.

This year she will be joined in Saturday’s first run by five of her teammates, all of whom have a chance of cracking the top 30 and qualifying for the second run.

Whistler’s Britt Janyk, who is both the reigning Europa Cup and Canadian GS champion, will also be in the start hut on Saturday.

Other Canadian women in the race include World Cup rookie of the year Geneviéve Simard of Val Morin, Quebec; Gail Kelly of Ste-Anges de Beauce, Quebec, Anna Prchal of Outremont, Quebec, and 17-year-old Nor Am champion Sophie Splawinski.

The number of starting bibs for each country is determined by its racers’ world rankings and overall titles earned the previous season, including the Europa Cup and Nor Am Cup series.

"We have quite a range of experience, from Allison who’s a veteran in the top five, to a group of rising stars and a brand new 17-year-old," said women’s technical team coach Mark Sharp. "Having six women start feels pretty good. I think it shows we’ve got the women on the right track. We’re here for podiums – that’s our mandate."

The women’s team has been called Canada’s strongest since the 1970s when it was anchored by Betsy and Susan Clifford, Kathy and Laurie Kriener, Judy Crawford and Vanita Haning.

Men’s technical coach Marc Gagnon is also happy to have three racers in the GS on Saturday with the addition of Julien Cousineau of Lachute, Quebec, who is racing in his first World Cup.

Cousineau qualified after making the cut in timed training runs, and will join veteran Thomas Grandi of Canmore, Alberta, and national champion Jean-Philippe Roy of Ste-Flavie, Quebec.

"Cousi was winning all the training runs and he beat all of the Americans except Bode Miller," said Gagnon. "Thomas looks ready to go and J.P. is physically stronger than ever."

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