The thought of breaking a long-standing record set by a legendary Canadian skier has crossed Erik Guay’s mind more than a few times.
Closing in on Steve Podborski tends to do that to an athlete.
Podborski was synonymous with skiing excellence through the mid-1970s and early '80s, along with Ken Read, Dave Irwin, Jim Hunter and the late Dave Murray. Together they made up the world renowned Crazy Canucks.
It was Podborski who stood as the most successful of the famous skiers, capturing a Canadian record 20 World Cup podium finishes — his last coming in a victory at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in 1984.
Today his record is being threatened by Guay. The 31-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., hasn’t built his resume in the same, flamboyant fashion of Podborski, but he’s quietly creeping up on the former great.
Guay, set for his first race of the season in Lake Louise, Alta., this weekend, stands three shy of Podborski’s mark.
“It’s a record that I think is important,” Guay, who earned his first of 17 World Cup podiums in Lake Louise nine years ago, told CBCSports.ca.
“I grew up watching the Crazy Canucks, watching Ken Read and that was one obstacle that I was very happy to overcome, to beat his [World Cup] podium [finishes of 14] last year. Now the next one on my radar is Podborski. They’ve obviously been huge inspirations in my life and to be able to take that kind of title forward would mean a lot to me.”
Guay proudly points out that he already has an edge on Podborski after winning the 2011 world downhill championship title in Garmisch — defending the title teammate John Kucera won two years earlier.
Podborski does own a bronze medal he earned in the men’s downhill at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, something Guay has yet to accomplish in two tries. He also has a comfortable 8-3 advantage in World Cup wins over Guay. The two remain the only Canadian skiers to win a World Cup season title.
“I understand what it means to attain 10, 15 or 20 podiums,” said Guay, who has talked with Podborski numerous times but never about the World Cup record. “I know how much work goes into it. For me as a Canadian, I was extremely proud of them [Crazy Canucks] at such a young age and now to kind of live through that dynasty and hopefully add to the legacy of ski racing in Canada would be a huge opportunity for me.”
In order to eclipse Podborski’s mark this season, Guay will need to avoid the pitfalls that nearly put him out of action in September when the Canadian suffered ligament damage to his to his patella (knee cap) during a training session in Chile.
“I kind of hit this weird compression at a funny angle, tweaked my knee and then fell,” he said.
Guay underwent arthroscopic surgery by prominent surgeon Dr. Bob Litchfield at the Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic in London, Ont., and was given a six-week time frame for a return to the snow.
But a positive report from the Canadian team’s medal staff on Nov. 1, and a strong training session at the Colorado ski camp a week later has Guay on track for Lake Louise.
“I think for Erik what we’ve come to realize is his peaking always happens late January and into February,” said CBC Sports analyst and 1992 Olympic downhill champion Kerrin Lee-Gartner.
“He’s a little bit of a slower starter during the year but once he finds his groove and his confidence by mid-season, he’s very strong.”
Defending world titleGuay successfully defended the world downhill championship in 2011 for Canada, a title won by teammate John Kucera two years earlier. (Michael Probst/Associated Press)
Guay may be in better shape to defend his 2011 world crown, a year filled with frustration. The veteran was struggling with constant back pain, a recurring problem that prevented him from finding consistency throughout the season.
The world championship didn’t get off to a promising start. Guay failed to finish the super-G event and appeared headed for another disappointing week of skiing. That changed a day later on the Garmisch downhill course as he upset the field, beating Swiss great Didier Cuche by 0.32 seconds to claim Canada’s second straight world title.
“My whole mind frame in that year was you win the world championships or at least if you have a podium at the world championships nobody will remember what the rest of the year looked like,” he said.
The Canadian team, however, doesn’t want to see a repeat of the troubles Guay went through two years ago.
The program needs him to be in top form, especially with the returns of fragile teammates Manuel Osborne-Paradis and John Kucera, who both admitted to CBCSports.ca that they are focusing more on their health rather than podium results.
“As long as he stays healthy and positive, Erik has the goods to be on the podium all year long — in the downhill or super-G events,” said Lee-Gartner. "It’s nice for him that he has two events that he can contend."
Those two events could also help place Guay on equal footing with one of the skiers he admired growing up on the slopes of Quebec.
“I think Erik is a leader out there, he’s a veteran, he knows the routine, he knows how to perform on race day,” Lee-Gartner said, while following with a prediction. “And I would expect him to be able to tie Steve’s record, no question.”