The sun was shining in Lake Louise, Alta., and in Norway this past weekend as former overall World Cup champion Aksel Lund Svindal had two victories.
There were no Canadians on the podium but some significant strides were taken in that direction.
Mont Tremblay, Que.'s Erik Guay, who had surgery on his knee in September, was a very respectable sixth in Saturday's downhill
, followed by an 11th place showing in Sunday's super-G, a course that was set by an Italian coach with lots of turns - not ideal for someone still feeling knee soreness.
Guay was not totally satisfied with his, or the team's performance (he's the captain) and told Canadian Press afterwards, "We should be aiming a little bit higher right now...we're kind of being satisfied with qualifying and finishing in the top 20. I think we should be charging for the podium."
Kucera shows courage
I don't think he was referring to Calgary's John Kucera. When Kucera came out of the start hut on Saturday, it was almost three years to the day
since he last raced a World Cup downhill. On Nov. 28, 2009 he finished a very solid sixth in the downhill race at Lake Louise, which was followed by a super-G the next day. It was that second race - 55 seconds in - which has defined his last three years. He crashed trying to make a left turn and broke his leg. A series of complications have kept him out of World Cup races until this weekend.
So, it was a small victory for Kucera to land in 36th place in Saturday's downhill, and he told me after the race that he was expecting this season to bring a lot of baby steps as he slowly gets closer to the form that he had when he left the tour three years ago. But he leapfrogged a few steps on Sunday as he raced down Sunday's super-G run into a very impressive 14th place finish. If he keeps this up, his words might just come true.
"I understand that the deck is probably stacked against me but maybe I'll write a new book."
Whether this Canadian Cowboy ever writes a book remains to be seen, but he showed amazing fortitude and, dare I say, courage climbing back on the horse and taking it for a ride. It's impossible to cheer against a guy like that.
Aksel Lund Svindal is a big fan of John Kucera. The Norweigan flash said after winning Sunday's super-G that: "I really hope to see Johnny fast again, he's been unlucky and he's a really good skier." Although Kucera has not quite landed at Svindal's level yet (few have) he did have a faster time than 50 other World Cup skiers on Sunday.
Osborne-Paradis skips super-G
It was an interesting decision by Alpine Canada not to allow Manny Osborne-Paradis to race in Sunday's super-G after he re-launched his World Cup career with a very solid 22nd-place showing in Saturday's downhill. Keep in mind Osborne-Paradis won the Lake Louise super-G back in 2009, the very race that saw Kucera injured. Maybe they are looking to stoke the fire of competition that we know is already heating up in his belly.
One international skier who would love to have the kind of comeback that the Canadians are showing is Switzerland's Carlo Janka. The man who won the overall title just three seasons ago seems to have forgotten how to go fast. Last year he did not land on the podium once and this season has started a lot worse when he failed to earn a second run at the giant slalom at Soelden, Austria, finishing a dismal 51st in the downhill at Lake Louise and then only slightly better (41st) in the super-G. Janka did have surgery on his heart a few years back but he came back to win races just days later so his troubles seem to defy logic.
Janka was once the cream of the crop on a powerful Swiss team that has fallen on tough times. Didier Cuche retired at the end of last season and his heir-apparent, Beat Feuz, has a knee issue that will keep him out of this entire World Cup season. The top Swiss result in Saturday's downhill was Sylvan Zurbriggen's 24th place, followed by a 10th-place finish from Patrick Kueng in the super-G.
One final observation: World Cup skiers - even the big international stars - are really good guys who don't seem to believe their own press clippings.
A few nights before the racing started, our CBC Sports producer Milan Maglov managed to organize interviews in succession with Norweigans Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud, Austrians Klaus Kroell and Hannes Reichelt, Switzerland's Didier Defago and Croatia's Ivica Kostelic.
That distinguished group has piled up eight Olympic medals, nine world championship medals, and 13 World Cup Crytsal Globes. But, despite the pedigree, each came dutifully to the designated interview location prepared to answer whatever questions we threw at them.
In our conversation with Svindal and Jansrud, they both gave credit to the fact that in Norway everyone skis every event. It might take a little longer for them compared to a specialist to get exceptionally good at a given event, but when a breakthrough occurs it seems to occur across the spectrum of events: slalom, giant slalom, super-G and downhill. And then when you compete at a major event like Olympics and world championships the pressure is spread around because you have so many chances at success or failure.
I asked Svindal if he thought other nations could learn from Norway, but he didn't seem quite ready to make that statement. Or maybe, he just doesn't want to give up a national secret that helped him take Canada by storm this past weekend.
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