Vancouver Olympic Games organizers say they're pleased with feedback received after a successful week of World Cup racing in Whistler, B.C.
And even though Canadians were kept off the podium, Alpine Canada coaches and athletes believe they have the talent to win at home when the Olympic flame is lit in two years.
Maria Riesch, centre, celebrates with second-place finisher Marlies Schild, left, and third-place finisher Anja Paerson on Sunday in Whistler, B.C.
(Charles Krupa/Associated Press)
"I think we have seven or eight athletes that have a real shot at a medal," said Max Gartner, Alpine Canada's chief athletics officer. "If we can convert half of that, we'll be happy."
This week's four races were the first official test event for the Olympics and will be the only World Cup ski events in Whistler before 2010.
The athletes praised the men's super-giant slalom course and women's downhill. There was some grumbling that the men's giant slalom course wasn't demanding enough, but generally Olympic officials were pleased with the skiers' comments.
"For us, that was like getting an early report card with a few A's on it," said John Furlong, chief executive officer for the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee (VANOC). "That was really positive."
Getting the races off was important for Olympic officials, who spent $27.6 million upgrading the Creekside facility for the Games.
Early in the week there were some complaints from spectators who were forced to trek about 30 minutes up the hill to reach the finish line. Media and VIPs were taken in buses.
By Saturday, buses were being supplied for spectators. Crowds of between 2,000 and 3,000 watched the races.
Furlong said VANOC officials are still deciding what sort of transportation will be offered to fans come the Games.
Top Canadian finishes 10th
A win in Sunday's super combined has Germany's Maria Riesch looking forward to the 2010 Olympics. Riesch had the fastest time in the morning's super-giant slalom, then skied well enough in the afternoon's slalom to hold off a challenge from Austria's Marlies Schild.
"I was a little lucky but you need some luck sometimes," smiled Riesch, who edged Schild by just nine one-hundreths of a second.
"I didn't risk 100 per cent in slalom, that's why I lost a lot of time. I am really happy I won it."
Riesch won the race in a combined time of two minutes, 10.07 seconds. Schild, who had the day's fastest slalom time, was second in 2:10.16 while Sweden's Anja Paerson was third in 2:10.38.
Emily Brydon of Fernie, B.C., who is primarily a speed specialist, was the top Canadian, finishing 10th in 2:11.87.
"For the amount of slalom that I ski, it was fine," said Brydon, who had the third fastest time in the super-G. "It's not a podium but realistically, a top-10 finish is great for me."
A fall in Friday's downhill had Riesch nervous before the combined event.
"I didn't want to go out again and go home with zero points," she said. "Maybe my slalom run was a little careful.
"I am really looking forward to the Olympics here."
Canadians had a couple near misses during the week.
Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was fourth in Thursday's super-giant slalom Thursday where four Canadians placed in the top 15.
"We're not quite there yet," said Gartner. "We know we have the talent and that we are going in the right direction. They are very close."
John Kucera, who finished fifth in Saturday's giant slalom, said facing the world's best on the Olympic course was great experience.
"It helps you, no question," he said. "Just knowing where you can push it, where you have to be smart. You take that experience and you get faster."
Looking for podium at Olympics
Britt Janyk of Whistler, B.C., was fourth in the downhill Friday and said she's convinced she can get on the podium at the Olympics.
"We're taking away a lot of experience," she said. "It would have been nice to win the other day but maybe I would have come into the Olympics with a little more pressure.
"I can really look at where I can improve, where I can go fast and I'm going to be coming out here on fire in 2010."
Gartner admitted it was disappointing not to net a podium.
"We are shooting for podiums, that's where we want to be," he said. "We are in the hunt. We're going to be working hard. It keeps the whole program hungry. Overall it was a good performance."
Organizers reviewing changes for Games
Olympics officials will spend the next few weeks digesting what they learned and deciding what changes, if any, they need to make for the Games.
"Overall we're pretty happy," said Furlong. "Our team is feeling quite relieved about the week, about the result and about what the athletes have had to say.
"Now we can at least get back to thinking we have a great course and we can continue to plan how it will look come Games' time."
Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, was satisfied with the event and the performance of the Canadians.
"We are very pleased with our athletes' comfort with the course," said Chambers. "We think that bodes very well for the Games and it bodes well for our team leading into 2010."
The last successful World Cup race in Whistler was in 1995.
The International Ski Federation abandoned Whistler as a World Cup stop in 1998 after three consecutive years of races being cancelled due to adverse snow and weather conditions. Organizers had tried to stage those races before Christmas.