Road to the Olympic Games: 4 things to watch this weekend
Alpine skiing, moguls, badminton, soccer action highlight Saturday show
Hosted by veteran broadcasters Scott Russell and Andi Petrillo, Road to the Olympic Games chronicles athletes' journeys on and off the field of play. Here's what to look for on this weekend's show on CBC Television and CBCSports.ca.
The third classic men's downhill ski race in succession unfolds this Saturday in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in the Bavarian Alps.
Garmisch hosted the 1936 Olympic Winter Games and over the years, Canadian skiers have had tremendous success on the Kandahar course which is both demanding and visually spectacular.
Crazy Canuck Steve Podborski won the downhill here three times in the early 1980's and remains the most prolific racer in the mountain's history. There was something about the setting and the track that suited his go-for-broke style.
"Anytime you have an edge, real or perceived, when you stand in the starting gate and feel like you should win as opposed to hoping to win you are already ahead of more than 90 per cent of the field," Podborski said via email from Vancouver.
"Garmisch is scary and super challenging technically. As I was quite fearless and pretty strong technically it worked out rather well for me there."
Meantime Erik Guay, the leader of the Canadian Cowboys, who has been on the World Cup podium more than any ski racer from this country, has a knack for finding his game at Garmisch. Five top-three finishes here include his first career downhill win in 2007, as well as a world championship title recorded at this venue in 2011. Guay, who is returning to the circuit after missing all of last season with knee problems, will be looking to breakthrough in familiar territory. So far his best finish in the current campaign is fifth in a race at Val Gardena, Italy.
To add to the intrigue, speed racers have been dropping like flies because of injuries. To date, Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer of Austria, two-time World Cup overall winner Norwegian, Aksel Lund Svindal and American technical star Ted Ligety have all lost the remainder of their seasons and have undergone surgery.
For Canadian Manny Osborne-Paradis, the current rash of injuries is not a deterrent in any way.
"It is a part of the game and it sucks," Osborne-Paradis admitted from Europe after the first training run. "It does keep the mentally weak off the course. It's an everyday battle and struggle but you deal with it because it's your job and you love your job."
The race for the Crystal Globe is now wide open because Svindal, who had been at the head of the standings, is gone for the rest of the world cup season.
One more note about Garmisch. This is the site of the last race result posted by our expert analyst Todd Brooker who finished seventh in the downhill here in January of 1987. He suffered a career-ending crash while in a training run at Kitzbuehel a week later.
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET
Commentators: Scott Russell, 1984 Olympian, Todd Brooker
King of the Foothills
The World Cup freestyle circuit heads west to Canada Olympic Park (COP) in Calgary and the skiers from home are once again in a dominant position.
After winning five of six medals in moguls competition last week in Val St. Come, Que., the Canadians are poised for a similar result at the home of the 1988 Olympics. Since its redevelopment by WinSport in 2008, COP has become one of the top mogul skiing sites in the world.
"It's important to build a base across the country for a sport to be healthy," said 2006 Olympic champion Jenn Heil who grew up in Alberta but spent much of her training time in Quebec, the traditional home of freestyle skiing in this country.
"Canada remains the world's best nation for the development of talent and the rest of the world should be paying more attention to what the team is doing at the developmental levels if they want to challenge Canada's dominance over the long term."
Dominant is the perfect word to describe the burgeoning career of Mikael Kingsbury, the reigning Olympic silver medallist. Kingsbury now has 30 career World Cup wins, more than any skier in history, and is virtually unbeatable in Calgary where he's won three straight events.
In spite of his overwhelming success, Kingsbury is only now beginning to emerge from the shadow cast by his retired teammate and rival Alexandre Bilodeau, who won consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014.
"I can tell you the spectators sure don't benefit from the end of the rivalry between Kingsbury and Bilodeau," Heil reasons. "In the past when Mikael and Alex competed, only a perfect run could win. That pressure has since been removed with Alex retiring. It could potentially hold back Mik's overall progression but he is a very particular athlete who is focused on daily objectives and records."
Kingsbury is undefeated in two World Cup events this season having won in Finland and Quebec. The charismatic Dufour-Lapointe sisters also continue their friendly, sibling, rivalry this weekend in Calgary.
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET
Commentators: Brenda Irving, 2006 Olympic Gold Medalist Jenn Heil, Hillside, 2003 World hurdles champion, Perdita Felicien
Badminton's next star
Petro-Canada has been helping the next generation of Canadian Olympians develop since 1988 and the home Games in Calgary.
More than 2,700 grant recipients include high-performance athletes, and coaches from both winter and summer sport.
Featured on this week's show is 19-year-old badminton player Rachel Honderich of Toronto who is heading to the national championships in Winnipeg next week. Honderich is ultimately aiming for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, but her development has been nothing short of remarkable and she may take a run at Rio de Janeiro and the Olympics in Brazil.
"At age 13 or 14, my parents said you can keep playing lots of sports or pick one and try to excel at it," Honderich remembers.
After trying out hockey, basketball and tennis, she settled on badminton, which is one of the world's most played and competitive sports.
This past summer at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Honderich won a bronze medal in doubles competition and silver in singles after falling to her playing partner, the highly touted international star Michelle Li of Markham, Ont., in the final.
"It was a great experience but difficult as well," Honderich admits. "It's tough playing one of my closest friends because I have so much respect for her."
Undaunted, Honderich boldly states her ultimate goal is reach a top-15 world ranking as well as an Olympic berth. Michelle Li is currently the Commonwealth and Pan American champion and competed at the London 2012 Olympics, finishing a close fourth in doubles play with then partner Alexandra Bruce. Li is also the top ranked Canadian badminton player in history.
Watch Faces of Tomorrow, Road to the Olympic Games, Saturday from 4-6 p.m. ET
Canadian women head off to Olympic qualifier
The lineup of the Canadian women's soccer team that will attempt to qualify for the Rio Olympics has been announced, and the roster includes plenty of youth.
We'll feature a look ahead to the tournament which is on the near horizon next month. The Canadian women must finish first or second, with the home team and current FIFA women's World Cup champions, the United States, favoured to win.
The Canadians, ranked 11th in the world, have drawn into a favourable group with No. 48 Trinidad and Tobago, No. 84 Guatemala, and No. 92 Guyana, but expect to face a challenge in the crossover match against either Costa Rica or Mexico.
While the Canadian side includes established superstar Christine Sinclair, much of the team's hope for the future rides with Kadeisha Buchanan. The 20-year-old was the only defender chosen as a finalist for the Ballon D'Or as the FIFA women's player of the year, and was the winner of the best young player award at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Still, heading to qualifying, the steadfast Buchanan is taking nothing for granted.
"Those other teams in our group want to leave a legacy for their country," she reckons. "We have to have a '… don't take the foot off the gas pedal,' mentality. Our goal is not only to qualify but to get a result in the final against the U.S."
At the 2012 London Olympics, the third-place podium result by the women's soccer team was the first Olympic medal in a traditional team sport won by Canadians since the men's basketball squad captured silver at the 1936 Berlin Games.
Buchanan remembers being transfixed by the exploits of Christine Sinclair and the rest of the Canadian team, particularly in the semifinal against the Americans nearly four years ago.
"It inspired me as a 17-year-old to watch that," she beams. "It was absolutely crazy and now we have the opportunity to make that happen again."
The eight-country Olympic qualifying tournament will take place in Houston and Frisco, Texas from February 10-21.
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games on Saturday from 4-6 p.m. E.T.
Reporter: Karin Larsen in Vancouver