Canada's slalom skiers full of confidence in Soelden
Canadian skiers Erin Mielzynski and Marie-Michele Gagnon intend to build on their breakout results in slalom and vow to amp up their efforts in giant slalom this season.
Mielzynski, of Guelph, Ont., became the first Canadian woman to win a World Cup slalom since 1971 with her victory in Ofterschwang, Germany, on March 4.
A week later, an inspired Gagnon, a native of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was third in a World Cup slalom in Are, Sweden.
Those back-to-back podium finishes provided a big boost to the women's technical team, which heads into the 2012-13 season with increased confidence and additional funding from Own The Podium.
"I think right now we have a really special team," Mielzynski said Wednesday from Soelden, Austria, during a conference call.
"The victory and also Miche's podium just helped us realize how close we are and how good it feels when another teammate is on the podium. It'll be such a good day when two of us are on the podium or three of us or a number of us in the Top 10."
Gagnon, 23, and Mielzynski, 22, ranked 10th and 15th, respectively, in the overall World Cup slalom standings to conclude last season.
Giant slalom is a work in progress for the women.
So their expectations and those of their coach are tempered for the season-opening giant slalom Saturday in Soelden.
Mielzynski and Gagnon will ski their first World Cup slaloms of the season Nov. 10 in Levi, Finland.
"We're not looking at podiums now in giant slalom," Hugues Ansermoz said. "We need to build.
"[In] slalom last year, we had two podiums and, for sure, the goal is to repeat that. Two podiums this year and, hopefully, more Top 10 than before."
'I'm really confident'
Gagnon has posted a couple of Top 10 results in giant slalom during her career. She devoted more time to the discipline in the off-season.
"I'm really confident coming into Soelden here compared to any other years," Gagnon said. "I've had really good training."
Gagnon placed 25th in Soelden in 2012 and 13th in 2010.
Mielzynski feels it's time to build strength in a second discipline.
"It's good to be a two-event skier," she said. "At this point in my career, anything I do in GS is going to help my slalom.
"This weekend, I'm taking it as a learning experience without too much pressure on myself because it's my first time at Soelden."
She says giant slalom is tricky because she races at higher speeds and on steeper pitches than in slalom.
"The difficulty is that I've been doing primarily slalom for so long that I'm a little out of my comfort zone, but this year I've been training a lot of GS with the other girls," Mielzynski said. "It's starting to become in my comfort zone again."
Marie-Pier Prefontaine of Saint-Saveur, Que., rounds out the women's team.
Giant slalom is the strength of the men's squad because of veteran Jean-Philippe Roy's previous success in it.
The 34-year-old from Sainte-Flavie, Que., Calgary's Trevor Philp, and Dustin Cook Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., will compete in the men's GS on Sunday in Soelden.
Roy injured his knee in both 2005 and 2009. Season-ending surgery after the latter kept him out of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
He was posting Top 10 results prior to those injuries each time.
"Hopefully, this time when I'm skiing my best, it won't happen," Roy said. "It's a long road and you need to love skiing to go through it twice."
'You reach the podium, you get priority'
Own The Podium provides Sport Canada funding based on a sport's potential to win Olympic medals.
World Cup hardware from Mielzynski and Gagnon indicate they can compete for medals at both the world alpine championship Feb. 4-17 in Schladming, Austria, as well as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Alpine Canada president Max Gartner said OTP funding to the women's technical team increased $95,000 over last season.
The women have noticed a few rewards for their results, however.
They had an extra coach in off-season training as well as a boot specialist at training camps to optimize their footgear.
"He would watch us ski and see if we needed something special in our boots in order be little bit more forward in skiing or be able to start the turn a little bit earlier," Mielzynski said. "The boots are so important because it's how we initiate the turn and have our power."
Added Gagnon: "When you reach the podium, you get priority in some ways. We get to see a massage therapist more often."
Diving sessions at a Calgary pool earlier this summer was an exercise in getting the women out of their comfort zones. They dove and somersaulted off the springboard and 10-metre tower.
"Standing at the top of the 10-metre and feeling your heart race, it's not the same as skiing, but it's a little bit similar to standing at the top of the race where it's really steep or a bit scary," Mielzynski said.