Road to the Olympic Games: 5 things to watch this weekend
Alpine skiing, moguls, bobsleigh action highlight shows
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 shows on CBC Television and CBCSports.ca.
The Hahnenkamm at Kitzbuehel
This weekend is all about speed racing on the FIS alpine World Cup.
In Austria, arguably the most notorious ski race in history is on track as the Hahnenkamm men's downhill invades Kitzbuehel. It's an event which has both inspired and terrorized competitors since 1931, and each year the rush down the "Streif" course has kept fans of the sport riveted.
"Kitzbuehel for me is the ultimate test of strength and courage in ski racing," intones Canadian Erik Guay, who finished second here in 2013. "Of course, you have to be a good skier but you also have to be able to find that courage and push those limits and be willing to risk it all. Maybe you end up in the fence…but maybe winning."
Canadian racers won this monster of a race four straight years from 1980-83 and champions who came to be known as "The Crazy Canucks," Ken Read, Steve Podborski and Todd Brooker remain legendary figures in ski racing lore at Kitzbuehel.
Watch: Hahnenkamm men's DH on Saturday at 5:45 a.m. ET
Commentators: Scott Russell, 1992 Olympic downhill champion Kerrin Lee-Gartner
Leading lights in the Dolomites
Meantime, at Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, the site of the 1956 Olympic Winter Games, the incredible journey of Larisa Yurkiw continues. The 27-year-old native of Owen Sound, Ont., has rebuilt her career following devastating injury and a lack of funding, which has forced her to develop her own resources while competing outside the formal Alpine Canada program.
Yurkiw is enjoying a breakthrough campaign which has seen her win bronze and silver medals at the last two downhill races in Val –d'Isere, France and Altenmarkt, Austria, respectively. She scored her first career podium result at Cortina, a second place finish, almost exactly a year ago.
"I have worked hard my whole career and that's unchanged," Yurkiw said via email from Europe. "But I didn't realize until I went independent how important it was to me, personally, to have people directly involved with my everyday tasks that truly believed in my potential. This belief impacts the management of an athlete and the long term goals, which I feel in turn promotes a whole bunch more success.
Yurkiw also believes that being forced to carve out her own path has allowed her to mature as a competitor.
"If you're going to venture out, you have to get educated fast and be ready for anything," she said. "Sport can be a magical tool to get kids and adults alike motivated. But if we sway too far from the 'love of the game,' we lose that magic."
Yurkiw is currently fourth on the World Cup downhill standings. At the top is the American superstar Lindsey Vonn, who has won three of the four downhill races so far this season. Switzerland's Lara Gut is the overall World Cup leader and should also be a factor in this race.
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET
Commentators: Scott Russell, 1992 Olympic champion Kerrin Lee- Gartner
Mogul magic in Quebec
The dominant Canadian freestyle ski team will compete for the first time this season in a World Cup event on home snow.
Featured are the men's and women's singles mogul competitions at Val St. Come, Que., just north of Montreal. At the Olympics in Sochi, Canadian skiers took four of the six medals available in these disciplines, including both gold-medal titles.
On the men's side, Mikael Kingsbury, who won silver in Russia to Alexandre Bilodeau's gold, has emerged as the most prolific mogul skier in history, and he's only 23-years-old. Kingsbury will be in search of his 30th World Cup victory this weekend and is the four-time overall champion, as well as the reigning world championship silver medallist.
The Dufour-Lapointe sisters, Justine and Chloe, have become sought after celebrities, particularly in their home province, following a gold-silver finish at the Olympics in Sochi. They are banking on a strong start to their season in front of a supportive crowd. Justine is only 21 and begins the season as the reigning Olympic and world champion having won the latter title at Kreischberg, Austria.
Watch Road to the Olympic Games Saturday at 5 p.m. ET
Commentators: Brenda Irving, 2006 Olympic moguls champion Jennifer Heil, Hillside 2003 world hurdles champion Perdita Felicien
Sliding into Whistler
After missing a season, the World Cup sliding circuit returns to the 2010 Olympic site at Whistler, B.C. In the fast lane for Canada will be Kaillie Humphries, who is dominating the women`s standings along with her brakeman Melissa Lotholz.
The pilot for Canada 1 in the men's category is Justin Kripps as he partners with Alexander Kopacz. Together the duo has combined for four top-10 finishes this season in the 2-man discipline but has not yet hit the podium. They'll get two races to try and capture a medal at Whistler.
In women's skeleton, Jane Channell of North Vancouver will be racing in front of a friendly crowd and hoping to continue her strong campaign. Channell won silver last week in Park City, Utah, her second medal of the season.
In Whistler, Channell will be dealing with her home track but one which has a bevy of challenges for every competitor. It's acknowledged to be the fastest and smoothest sliding surface in the world but it can also be hazardous.
"The feeling on your sled is like no other track with the speed factor," says 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Mellisa Hollingsworth, who was in medal position after three runs here in 2010 before finishing fifth.
"It leaves little room for error and one small mistake can result in a catastrophe, which I experienced at the worst possible moment in my final run at the 2010 Olympics."
Still, Hollingsworth believes Channell is poised to continue what has already been a stellar season.
"Jane is a phenomenal athlete and she is a threat to the start record every time she pushes a sled," Hollingsworth reckons. "But consistency is the key to this sport and Jane recognizes the importance of trusting her instincts and letting the sled go."
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games Saturday at 4 p.m. ET
Commentators: Mark Connolly, 2010 Olympic silver medallist Helen Upperton, Trackside, 2006 skeleton Olympic bronze medallist Mellisa Hollingsworth
Taking flight in Sapporo
After a long and arduous battle on the part of athletes and advocates, women's ski jumping made its Olympic debut in Sochi almost two years ago. Since then, the sport has become a fixture on the World Cup circuit and the depth of competition is increasing exponentially.
This weekend we feature the World Cup event from Sapporo, Japan which was the host for the 1972 Olympic Winter Games.
The event also includes Canada's 20-year-old Taylor Henrich of Calgary, along with 23-year-old Atsuko Tanaka, who was the nation's top finisher at the Olympics in 12th place. Henrich wound up 13th in Sochi but has gone on to record the first-ever podium finish by a Canadian women on the World Cup circuit by virtue of her bronze-medal result in Oberstdorf, Germany exactly a year ago. She has since added another bronze medal on the World Cup circuit and was fifth at the last world championships.
The Canadians and everyone else continue to chase 19-year-old Japanese phenomenon, Sara Takanashi. The two-time overall champion has already amassed 34 World Cup victories.
Ski jumping in this country got a much needed lifeline late, last year when the Canadian Olympic Foundation, combined with private sponsors, committed $300,000 per year over the next three years to defray operational costs at the jumping facilities housed at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park. These hills hosted the 1988 Olympic Winter Games and are the major training site for Canadian ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes.
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games Saturday at 2 p.m. ET
Commentators: Rob Snoek, 5 time Canadian nordic combined champion, Rob Keith