Canadian 'cowboys' named to Olympic alpine ski team
Erik Guay has 2 World Cup podiums in past month
The Canadian Olympic Committee welcomed three veteran speed skiers to the 2014 Alpine team on Wednesday, with the hopes that at least one will break a 20-year medal drought in Sochi.
Erik Guay of Mont Tremblant, Que., Jan Hudec of Calgary, and Manny Osborne-Paradis of North Vancouver, officially qualified weeks ago, but were honoured at a ceremony in Toronto.
Flight cancellations due to inclement weather the past two days across Canada meant that only Osborne-Paradis was the only member of the so-called Canadian Cowboys able to attend in person.
"I'm getting pretty good at going to the Olympics, so I'd like to get better at getting a medal," Osborne-Paradis said after donning the official Team Canada jacket.
Osborne-Paradis, who will turn 30 at the beginning of the Sochi races, is far from blasé about making his third Olympic squad. To the contrary, he spoke more than once of the 'profound' effect last year's Olympic Excellence Series in Vancouver had on his motivation and sense of Canadian pride.
At that 2013 event, Osborne-Paradis got to really know many athletes from other sports for the first time, as well as Canadian skiing standard bearer Steve Podborski, now the country's Chef de Mission for the Sochi Games.
Osborne-Paradis also doesn't take his success for granted after suffering a career-threatening injury since the last Olympics. He broke his left leg and tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in a 2011 crash. Full recovery from the injury was then delayed by a disc injury in his back.
"It's probably taught me a lot more with perseverance," he said. "You feel like you're trying really hard when you're healthy and then you get injured and you realize you weren't trying [that] hard, and it's that much more work to come back from injury.”
Osborne-Paradis has qualified on the basis of a pair of top 10 finishes this season, including a fourth at the Beaver Creek, Colo., downhill.
It was encouraging to be near the podium at a venue he's traditionally struggled at, Osborne-Paradis said, but he still feels he's putting too fine a point on some races instead of going down with abandon.
"That's the feeling I need, where you're reacting to your mistakes and you're just letting the skis run down the hill," he said. "Skiing pretty has never been a fast way of skiing."
He looks to improve upon an eighth in the super-combi at the 2010 Olympics. In the super-G in Vancouver, he went off course after a promising early section.
Canada has only reached the Olympic podium twice in men's alpine skiing with bronze-medal efforts coming from Podborski (1980) and Ed Podivinsky (1994). Podivinsky’s achievement was so long ago that Osborne-Paradis was 10 at time, and he has no recollection of the event.
Both Podborski and Podivinsky were on hand for the Toronto event. Podivinsky said Guay, Hudec, and Osborne-Paradis each have the confidence and experience, critical assets for dealing with the pressure and unpredictability of the Olympic event.
Guay most likely to snap drought
Guay is considered the most likely of the three to snap the medal-less streak. He recently passed Podborski as Canada's all-time leader in World Cup podiums with 21. The 32-year-old won a bronze medal last month in the downhill at Bormio, Italy, and gold in Val Gardena.
Guay achieved the feat despite knee surgery in the summer, which pushed back his first real training session on a hill to Nov. 1.
"That's a remarkable story," said Podborski. "He really had very little time on the snow. It's clear to me that he's a master of alpine skiing, particularly in downhill and super-G."
Hudec, 32, finished second in the super-G at Val Gardena last month for his fifth career podium. Teammates have often half-joked about the resiliency of Hudec's body, which has endured a slew of injuries in his career.
The encouraging early start from the three veterans occurs in the first season for Alpine Canada with Martin Rufener as director, the man who helped guide the Swiss team to great success in recent years.
"To have three podiums and a near miss [fourth] is really great for our team and shows we have momentum building in the right direction, at the right time," said Osborne-Paradis.
There are still World Cup races to be run through Jan. 26, so others could join the trio for the Tier 1 qualification standard. At its simplest, that qualifying formula involves a pair of top 12 finishes in the past two seasons.
Other skiers in the mix
As well, other spots could open up for promising young skiers from around the world.
In the mix are three other skiers in attendance in Toronto on Wednesday: Conrad and Morgan Pridy of Whistler, B.C., and Jeffrey Frisch of Mont Tremblant, Que.
Each have achieved top results on the Nor-Am circuit and could one day be taking over the spotlight from their more celebrated teammates.
There's also Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., who finished second in downhill at a Sochi test event in 2012.
Once you're at the Olympics, anything can happen, said Osborne-Paradis.
"You push out of the gate you hope your wax is good, you hope your line is good, you hope the weather cooperates and everything aligns," he said. "It always aligns for three people in the race."
The men's speed team is off to Europe now, with the next World Cup events in super-G and downhill next week in Wengen, Switzerland.
The women's Olympic alpine team announcement is set for Jan. 16.