Erik Guay doesn't want an Olympic medal 'to be the one that got away'
Canadian alpine skier motivated to land on podium at final Games of an illustrious career
On a mild and misty morning in the Canadian Rockies, the best skiers on the planet prowl the lobby of the magnificent Chateau Lake Louise like caged lions.
For the second consecutive day, training runs for the opening World Cup speed race of the season have been cancelled.
There is nothing to do but work out and wait.
Erik Guay, the most decorated alpine athlete in Canadian history, arrives right on time in order to be interviewed.
"Thanks for coming all this way," he says intently, while shaking hands.
Guay, now 36, has won five races and finished on the podium 24 times over the course of his World Cup career. He's captured a season title in the super-G and also been world champion twice.
Guay claimed the downhill crown in 2011 in Garmisch, Germany, and the super-G gold medal this past March in St. Moritz, Switzerland, thus becoming the oldest world champion in alpine skiing history. He also won a silver medal in the downhill at St. Moritz.
But now, on the threshold of what could very well be his final season of racing, Guay acknowledges he is not yet satisfied.
An elusive pursuit
"It's the elusive Olympic medal that most motivates me," he deadpans. "I've been so close so many times. To bring a medal home for Canada from the Olympics would be special…especially at my age."
Indeed, Guay has missed that precious Olympic medal by mere hundredths of a second – three times. There was the super-G in 2006 in Torino, Italy, and twice, in both the downhill and super-G, in Vancouver in 2010.
The impending Olympics in Pyeongchang will be the fourth and final appearance at the Games for Guay.
"I think if I walk away from the Olympics with a medal it will define my career, I mean, that's what people will remember," he reckons.
"On the other hand, if I don't walk away from the Games with an Olympic podium finish, I'll still be proud of myself. I've had an illustrious career with some highlights and some big moments. If it doesn't happen, that will just have to be the one that got away."
Guay, is matter of fact when referring to the lure of the Olympic dream and where it figures in the overall landscape of his journey as a high-performance athlete. He refuses to over dramatize it and has, at times, underplayed the importance of the Olympics to him personally.
'People couldn't be happy in the moment'
After winning the silver medal in the downhill to go along with super-G gold at the world championships in Switzerland, Guay responded to a media question about the lack of an Olympic title with characteristic frankness and drew the ire of some Canadian fans.
"Everybody's talking about the Olympics," he said. "Right now I couldn't care less about the Olympics."
Seven months later with the new Olympic season about to begin and his quest continuing, Guay is eager to explain his reasoning.
"You have to put what I said into context," he stresses.
"I was a bit upset that I had just won two medals at the world championships and people couldn't be happy in the moment. I stand by my words.
"I know that Canadians care a lot about the Olympics. But I have a lot of racing to do between now and February so I try to concentrate on the races at hand. I've learned from experience when you go to the Olympics that things can go sideways. Plans can go out the window. You have to be flexible and adapt."
Guay, is the father of four young girls all under the age of eight. He is a poster child for Red Bull and a bevy of other sponsors who have stood by him for many of the 17 years he's been racing on the World Cup circuit, including the entire seasons he's missed through injury.
He earns a very good living and approaches his sport in a business-like fashion.
For that he makes no apology.
"I consider myself a professional and I try to do my job to the best of my ability," Guay explains.
"I try to work hard and portray an athlete who takes his job seriously and who puts everything possible into his plan for success. I believe in living a healthy lifestyle. I believe in maintaining a good appearance for my children and the kids who surround me."
He bristles slightly when asked if he races because he loves it.
"I'm willing to take the risks and I know the risk of breaking a leg or blowing a knee. I don't think I'd be here if I didn't have a passion for the sport and for competition in general," Guay says without hesitation.
"Ultimately, I'm trying to represent Canada across the globe and make people at home proud and happy. I'm trying to inspire and encourage the next generation of skiers and athletes in general."
Impossible to refuse
On the subject of the Olympics and what this last chance to win a medal means to him, Guay is unequivocal.
He responds to the question of whether, if asked, he would carry the Canadian flag into the Opening Ceremony in South Korea on the eve of his competition.
"Honestly, I would have to accept," he answers quickly. "To carry the flag of your country is the single biggest honour that you can bestow on someone. We have a training run early the next morning, but I would never say no to that opportunity."
Not all Canadian athletes would say the same thing when faced with a similar dilemma.
But for Erik Guay, Canada's most successful ski racer, it is possible to be two things at once.
For him, being a seasoned pro while steadfastly chasing a childhood dream just naturally goes hand-in-hand.