Guay's confidence shaken by setbacks
It's been a tough month for Canadian skier Erik Guay and he doesn't expect things to improve much as he prepares for the upcoming world alpine championships.
The combination of watching friends get hurt in World Cup races and dealing with his own back problems has taken a toll on Guay's confidence.
Usually upbeat and positive, Guay was melancholy Tuesday when talking about his chances of producing a good result at the world championships, which begin next Tuesday in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
"I haven't exactly put down the results to show I can be competitive," he said in an interview from Flachau, Austria. "We'll see what happens once we are there. Right now I'm not at an all-time high in my confidence.
"It's been a tough month. I've watched four guys from my team hurt themselves, one after another. I wouldn't say I'm exactly chipper."
Guay watched from the finish area Saturday as Manuel Osborne-Paradis tore up his knee and broke his fibula in a fall at a downhill race in Chamonix, France.
Osborne-Paradis' crash came on the heels of injuries to Ryan Semple (knee), Robbie Dixon (concussion), Francois Bourque (knee), and Louis-Pierre Helie (concussion, knee).
The skier's creed demands you accept injuries as part of the sport. That's not always easy.
"It's part of the job," said Guay. "You kind of get used to those kind of things.
"You kind of numb yourself to it. You go through it, you deal with it. You forget about it and move on."
It's been a frustrating season for Guay.
The 29-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., finished last year strong, winning two super-giant slalom races to take the Crystal Globe in the discipline.
So far this year his lone top-10 finish was a third-place in a super-G at Val-Gardena, Italy. He missed two races with a sore back.
"I was looking pretty good there in December when I had my podium in super-G," said Guay, who has 14 podium finishes in his career. "Then I was injured.
"It wasn't part of my plans. It put a damper on things having to deal with that back injury. It's still not fully healed. It's not making me that confident for these next two weeks."
The problem with Guay's back is one of his vertebrae has moved, injuring some of the ligaments that hold it in place. Surgery isn't an option.
"There's nothing I can do about it," Guay said. "I just have to deal with it."
Guay is in Flachau so he can train with members of the Austrian team.
Injuries have devastated the Canadian ski team. Since December 2009 the team has lost 10 skiers. John Kucera, Kelly VanderBeek and Larisa Yurkiw were all hurt last year and have not returned.
Other teams have also been affected. Austria's Hans Grugger needed emergency brain surgery after crashing in Kitzbuehel two weeks ago while countryman Mario Scheiber broke his right shoulder blade and fractured his sinuses training at Chamonix.
Alarmed by the injuries, Alpine Canada plans to host a summit in April. The international ski community has been invited to participate to find solutions on how to reduce injuries.
Guay supports Alpine Canada's initiative but is skeptical about any results it may produce. He was part of an athletes council the International Ski Federation formed last year to seek input on how to improve safety.
"I didn't find a whole lot got done from our suggestions," Guay said. "I felt the meetings were a way for FIS to say they talked to the athletes but our suggestions were never really used. I think it was a lot of talking and not a lot of action."
A FIS spokesman said ski officials are always willing to listen to the concerns of athletes.
"Often however not all athletes are of the same opinion and for that we at FIS have established proper procedures for the athletes to have their voices heard," Riikka Rakic, the FIS communications manager, said in an email.
"The athletes have elected their representatives (there are four alpine reps) and channels exist for them to forward their consolidated feedback to the decision-making bodies. Athletes always also have the chance to work through their National Ski Associations."
Guay said the powerful Austrian team may become more supportive of change now it has lost two skiers.
"Typically if something happens and you try and change . . . the Austrians hold back," Guay said.
Guay recently posted a question on his Facebook page seeking input on how ski racing safety can be improved.
Among ideas Guay supports is improved helmets.
"Right now the helmets are so thin and so dinky," he said. "They need to address that, especially with all the concussions we've had this year."
He also likes returning to how courses were laid out in the early 1970s. That was before grooming and snow-making systems turned the slopes in smooth sheets of ice.
The early courses were rougher, meaning skiers couldn't hold their tucks and had to reduce their speeds.
"Because it was rough it was really exciting to watch," Guay said. "There was a lot of action on the way down.
"I think if you're going 20 kilometres an hour slower it translates into less injuries."
Another option is designing race suits with knee re-enforcements and more fabrics which would slow down skiers if they fall.
Athletes may talk about safety among themselves but FIS will only listen to the national federations, Guay said.
"One way or the other we (athletes) are going to go out of the start gate at the next race," he said. "It's a question of getting (federation) heads to step up and starting pushing FIS a little bit harder to make something happen."