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Amateur sportsErik the great, Erik the gracious

Posted: Saturday, February 12, 2011 | 08:49 PM

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There is now proof positive that sometimes, nice guys actually finish first.

Hats off to Erik Guay, the leader of the Canadian alpine ski team, who has claimed the world championship in Garmisch, Germany, by winning the men's downhill in convincing fashion.
(Clive Mason/Getty Images)

There is now proof positive that sometimes, nice guys actually finish first.

Hats off to Erik Guay, the leader of the Canadian alpine ski team, who has claimed the world championship in Garmisch, Germany, on Saturday by winning the men's downhill in convincing fashion.

It hasn't been an easy road for the 29-year-old from Mont Tremblant, Que.

His career has been marked by too many close calls and too few accolades. Now this skier, who is imbued with enormous talent and drive, will finally get his due.

And the most important thing is that no champion has deserved a title more than Guay.

You could see it coming when he burst onto the World Cup stage by taking a silver medal in the downhill at Lake Louise in late 2003. He was young, energetic and not only articulate but fluently bilingual in both official languages. Here was a rising star and on his broad shoulders Canadian men's ski racing hastened to build its revival.

But soon after, that breakout season was marred by a crash and reconstructive knee surgery, which stalled Guay's rocketing path to superstardom.

Still, when he was encountered at Toronto's Pearson Airport in a wheelchair just off a plane from Europe, just prior to going under the knife, his smile was undiminished.  

"I'll be back," he promised.

Erik Guay has always been true to his word.

Agonizing near-misses

His propensity for finishing just off the podium is almost uncanny. There was a fourth-place finish in the Super-G at the Olympics in 2006, hundredths of a second from a medal, something which Canadian skiers have not won at any Games since Ed Podivinsky's bronze in the downhill at Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994.

At the 2007 world championships in Are, Sweden, Guay was again a close fourth and this time overshadowed by Jan Hudec, his teammate who came through with the silver medal.

Then back problems plagued Guay, and even though he competed at the 2009 worlds in Val D'Isere, he couldn't contend in the downhill. Instead, he was seen cheering from the sidelines as his younger compatriot, John Kucera, became the first male Canuck to claim the global speed crown.

Kucera proceeded to break his leg on the threshold of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and all the advance press was about Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Robbie Dixon, the Whistler locals who had shone in the lead-up to the Games.

Still, it was Guay who raced best at the home Olympics, placing fifth in both the Super-G and the downhill, missing two gold medals by the blink of an eye -- literally hundredths of a second separated him from legendary status, and made him into an also-ran.

"Coming that close is tough, but it makes me want to push on to Sochi in 2014," Guay remarked after those near misses.

Remember: he always makes good on his word.

On top of the world

To emphasize the point, Guay went out and scored three more podium results in March of 2010 and captured the Crystal Globe as World Cup season champion in Super-G. No Canadian had done that since Steve Podborkski of Crazy Canuck fame in 1982.

But when he walked down the street in Toronto carrying what he called "the holy grail or the Stanley Cup of skiing" at the season's kickoff press conference, very few passers-by actually knew who he was. He was basically left off the ballot in the voting for the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's Athlete of the Year.    

Now the classy Erik Guay is on top of the world, at long last.

And what does he do?

He dedicates his victory to his injured teammates. "They'll be back," he said confidently in his moment of triumph. Perhaps he was recalling his good fortune to return from serious injury and finally bask in the limelight of one of the world's most dangerous and unpredictable sports.

Good on Erik Guay.  

He proves with grace and grit that sometimes, nice guys really do finish first.      

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