Simard wins gold in Italy 

World Cup team rebounds in European series

After a couple of disappointing weeks, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team was back on course last weekend at World Cup events in Switzerland and France. On the women’s speed team, it was Genevieve Simard of Val-Morin, Quebec who led the way with her first gold medal in the super G at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy – Canada’s second gold of the season after Erik Guay took the downhill gold at Lake Louise.

It was an encouraging turnaround for a team that has had few victories this season and lost some of its top racers to injuries, including Guay and world champion downhiller Melanie Turgeon.

Simard, 23, owned the steep and twisting top section of the course, and none of the other skiers in the field came close to cmatching her split times. Maria Riesch of Germany came closest, but finished a distant 0.65 seconds back. Hilde Gerg, another German racer, claimed the bronze medal.

"It was a dream come true," said Simard. "I’ve wanted to win a World Cup race since I was a little kid."

The races in Italy followed a busy weekend for the team, with the men racing at Chamonix, France and the women at Veysonnaz, Switzerland.

Banff’s Thomas Grandi has been hot for Canada recently, and hasn’t finished outside of the top-20 in a World Cup contest since he went off course during a slalom race in Park City back in November. He also has a pair of sixth place finishes to his credit this season.

In Chamonix on Jan. 8, Grandi started his day with a first place finish in the KO slalom qualifier race. He returned that afternoon to defend his position before a crowd of more than 10,000 race fans.

The KO slalom starts with a time trial before pairing off the top-30 racers for head-to-head racing. The winners of the first race and the top-three losers move on to the next round, and so on, eliminating skiers from the field until just two racers remain to challenge for the gold.

Grandi was solid in finishing sixth overall. Lars Myhre of Norway was first, nudging out teammate Tom Stiansen. Giorgio Rocca of Italy nipped Jonathon Brauer of Austria for the bronze.

Races were cancelled due to rain the following day, but resumed on Saturday. In the men’s downhill, Vincent Lavoie of Cap Rouge, Quebec and Whistler’s Jeff Hume came close to cracking the top-30 after solid training runs earlier in the week.

Hume was in 27 th place, and looked to earn his first World Cup points when a group of skiers at the back of the pack, including Lavoie, bumped him back to 33 rd . Lavoie was 32 nd .

Although discouraging, the athletes noted that it was a close race – Hume was just two-tenths of a second out of the top-30 and just over two seconds back of the leader.

Austria’s Stephan Eberharter claimed the gold medal. Lasse Kjus of Norway was second, and Austria’s Michael Walchoffer was third.

In a slushy slalom the following day, Grandi finished 16 th .

"The first run was a bit of a struggle," said Grandi. "The course was already deteriorating, so it was a wild ride.

"The second run was good. I charged from the top and only ran into a few small problems in the middle which I was able to make up for a bit. The final times were really tight just ahead of me – the top-10 was just hundredths of a second away. But I’m pretty happy with my result."

Julien Cousineau of Lachute, Quebec, came close to joining Grandi in the top-30. He was 32 nd , two-tenths out of qualifying for a second run. JP Roy of Ste-Flavie, Quebec was 47 th and Whistler’s Mike Janyk didn’t finish his first run.

Janyk remained upbeat, however, after racing in his first World Cup since the 2001-02 season as a result of a knee injury.

"The come-back’s been better than expected," said Janyk, who has made podium appearances in Nor Am and Europa Cup competitions this season.

"My knee is great, feels good, feels strong. I just want to go out and ski well, and maybe get some more World Cup starts for experience."

Cousineau and Grandi also competed in a Europa Cup at Saas Fee, Switzerland this week before heading to Wengen for a World Cup this weekend.

Giorgio Rocca of Italy claimed the gold medal. Pierrick Bourgeat of France and Bode Miller of the U.S. were second and third respectively.

The women’s speed team was also strong in the downhill and super G races at Veysonnaz, Switzerland.

In the downhill on Saturday, overcast skies actually worked in favour of the athletes by eliminating the shadows that frequently cause skiers problems on the Piste de l’Ours course.

Fernie’s Emily Brydon led the way among Canadians, finishing in 16 th place.

"I was confident on the run," she said. "There are definitely areas I could fix and work on, but it was a fine result."

Genevieve Simard of Val-Morin, Quebec, earned her third consecutive top-30 in the downhill with a 27 th place finish – not bad considering that she is relatively new to the discipline.

"I felt good coming down," said Simard.

"I thought I would be a little faster, honestly. But, thinking back, there were a few turns I got late in the soft snow, which was really costly.

"When the snow is soft like this it’s really crucial that you stay in the track and I got late a few times, but I’ll look at the splits, watch video and build on this."

Anne-Marie Lefrancois of Charlesbourg, Quebec and Kelly VanderBeek of Kitchener, Ontario were 39 th and 41 st respectively.

Renate Goetschl of Austria made history in this race, claiming her second straight gold medal to move into third on the all-time World Cup downhill victory list. Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria and Hilde Gerg of Germany tied for second place.

In the super G on the following day, Simard posted her best World Cup result of the season and tied her career best finish with a sixth place performance.

"I needed that," said Simard. "It feels good to get to the bottom and do a little fist in the air.

"This morning I went back to some basics with Short (coach Stephan Kurz), did some free skiing without poles and just some exercises to feel the good position of my body, and it really helped to go back to the simple stuff. The only thing I was thinking about this run was ‘full gas’, to charge right out of the block."

Brydon also had a good day with a 17 th place finish, although she didn’t quite see it that way.

"The times are self-explanatory," said Brydon. Crappy run, crappy time.

"I almost blew out near the bottom. I lost a lot of time there."

VanderBeek was 34 th and Lefrancois did not finish her run.

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