Inside a theatre in Toronto on Friday, the Canadian alpine ski team unveiled some of the big names its hoping will hit the World Cup podium this season.
There are 25 athletes in all, including several who couldn't compete in the Vancouver Olympics after suffering season-ending injuries.
One of the athletes walking in with the team is John Kucera. He won the world downhill championship in 2009, but broke his leg at a race in November in Lake Louise, Alta. He's hoping to be back on skis in a couple of weeks.
That race in Lake Louise was won by Kucera's teammate, Manuel Osborne-Paradis. The president of Alpine Canada, Max Gartner, said that day was symbolic of a season full of ups and downs.
"In my 27 years with the Canadian alpine ski team I don't ever think I've had an emotional roller coaster like I had last season."
Beyond the injuries, the team struggled to deal with the pressure and expectations of delivering a medal at its home Olympics.
Yet on the World Cup circuit, Canadians won four races -- the team's best result since 1984.
Osborne-Paradis won two of those races, but at the Olympics it was a different story -- he pushed too hard to win.
"I generally race to have a good race. And I was racing [at the Olympics] to win. It's totally different racing style. I knew that I was either going to win, or be in the nets, or finish 40th."
He said his game plan didn't work out, but he has no regrets.
Two more tries
At 26, Osborne-Paradis feels he has two Olympics left to accomplish what he wasn't able to do at Vancouver.
Erik Guay came as close as any Canadian skier to winning an Olympic medal, finishing fifth in the speed events at Whistler, B.C.
But he saved his biggest accomplishment for the end of the season.
Guay became only the second Canadian man to win a Crystal Globe as the top super-G skier in the world on the World Cup circuit.
And now rival skiers have him in his sights.
"I haven't had to deal with it yet," Guay said. "So I'm anxious to see how it will be in Lake Louise (CBCSports.ca, Nov. 24). But I imagine I"ll have a little bit more pressure. I'll be the one to catch which is the first time I've ever been in that situation."
Osborne-Paradis said with so much focus on the Olympics and medals, Canadians sometimes miss the big picture.
"They aren't seeing that Eric won the Globe," he said. "We had pretty much the best season in Canadian history with four wins. It's a shame Canadians don't see it like that."
There is now a fair bit of pressure to keep on winning on the World Cup circuit.
The president of Alpine Canada, Max Gartner, said this is a crucial time. The majority of his team's corporate sponsorship deals, worth several million dollars, come up for renewal at the end of the year.
And now that the home Olympics have come and gone, he's worried the support may not continue.
"We need to step up and perform obviously ... but I'm just urging corporate Canada to stick with us because especially on our men's side the athletes are still fairly young," Gartner said. "So their best years are still to come and we're just hoping we can provide the quality program that they need to do well."
Gartner said after the Calgary Olympics in 1988, funds were hard to come by.
And that led to a long drought on the slopes. From 1994 to 2007, no Canadian male skier won a World Cup downhill event.
Slalom star Michael Janyk said there's only one thing that can prevent a drop off.
"Canadians love when you win," he said. "If you keep coming in 10th [Canadians] don't pay attention. We have to keep pushing for the podium every week and create our own excitement around it."
He said the team has learned from what went wrong in Whistler. It now has a sports psychologist travelling with the athletes and the athletes are buying into training and preparing mentally like never before.
It's helped, Osborne-Paradis said. And he sees big things down the road from this team.
"People peak in their 30s in skiing," he said. "Eric is 29. I'm 26. We've got lots of years to come. We've got lots of success still to achieve."
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