Olympic medals are cool, but Canadian skier Jack Crawford says he has more to accomplish
World Cup season lands in Lake Louise — perhaps for the final time
The question seems to catch Jack Crawford off guard for a split-second.
"The medal?" he asks, referring to the Olympic bronze the Canadian collected in alpine combined in February in Beijing.
Indeed, the question was about "the medal." Where does Crawford keep it?
"I don't know. It's with my parents. I don't know. I wouldn't say the medal really — it's super cool. It means a lot to me. But the experience I think is more my speed," he answers.
As it turns out, speed itself is also Crawford's speed. The 25-year-old from Toronto excels in alpine skiing's two fastest events, the super-G and downhill, finishing fifth in the former and 16th in the latter in last season's overall World Cup standings.
Both disciplines will be tested at the 2022-23 season opening World Cup in Lake Louise, Alta., which begins Friday and runs through Sunday. Live streaming of the entire event will be available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Crawford enters the campaign with a new set of challenges, including a start number toward the front of the pack. It also means a target on his back after he finished fourth in the downhill and sixth in super-G at the Olympics, in addition to the bronze in alpine combined (which adds together one downhill run and one slalom run).
Ever the competitor, Crawford said it's the downhill that sticks with him most of the three Olympic races.
"I put down a run that could have won the race and unfortunately, time wasn't on my side that day. So that one definitely, definitely stings a bit because if I think about, like, start number, or I do one turn differently, all of a sudden it's a completely different day," he said.
Still, Crawford said ultimately his goal in every race is to post a time capable of winning — even if the result doesn't follow. In a solitary sport like alpine skiing, the opponent tends to be the clock more than other racers. Meanwhile, his eyes are set on the world championships in February and earning medals at vaunted hills like Kitzbuhel.
WATCH | Crawford snags silver at World Cup in March:
Alpine Canada speed coach John Kucera, whose first World Cup victory as an athlete came in the 2006 Lake Louise super-G, said the next step for Crawford is consistency.
"Showing those kind of high-level performances he was able to do through the Olympics and the end of the year on a more consistent basis right from the beginning," Kucera said. "And if he does that? Everything else will kind of take care of itself."
Crawford will be helped by his early start number, a result of his strong end to last year, granting him fresher snow and more predictable weather alongside other podium contenders. He posted the fastest time in downhill training on Tuesday, and was third on Thursday behind Switzerland's Marco Odermatt and Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.
"When we're dealing with a sport that has as many variables as ours and races are being decided by hundreds of a second, like all those things matter," Kucera said.
"It's a completely different set of nerves," Crawford explained. "When you're starting at the back, it still is kind of like you're trying to get in. People aren't thinking like, 'Oh, this guy deserves it.' It's like, 'Oh, he could be good.' Now it's, 'He should be.'"
Between the bronze medal and the upgraded start number, Crawford will certainly now be viewed differently by opponents. But he said that reality still hasn't quite sunk in.
"I think it's crazy. It's something that I've always dreamed of. But I guess I have a lot more that I think I'm capable of, and I'm hoping that I get a couple more Olympics to add to that [bronze medal]," he said.
"It's just in our sport, there's so many things you can win and that's just one little tick, but until there's a gold one, I think it'll just stare me in the face a little bit."
End of the line?
While the Lake Louise World Cup marks the start of the alpine ski season for some, it also may have the feeling of an ending.
That's because the future of the event itself is in doubt. The women, whose Lake Louise trip is a week after the men, don't have a World Cup in Canada on the docket for the 2023-24 season. The men do, but the exact location is still ominously unknown.
"Hopefully this year it means a little more just because there's going to be more people, more friends. And it just might be the last one. So take advantage," Crawford said.
Kucera said that beyond his personal triumph at Lake Louise, the venue is important because so many Canadian skiers cut their teeth there, from training to the lower-level NorAm circuit.
"[Lake Louise is] very picturesque and everybody always likes coming there.
"I don't know where these things [stand for] next year, but if this is the last one, it's bittersweet for sure. And, hopefully, we can show up as the Canadian team and perform well," Kucera said.
Other Canadian contenders
Many remember Crawford's bronze, but two other Canadians — Broderick Thompson and Brodie Seger — placed eighth and ninth, respectively, in alpine combined, too.
Kucera said Thompson, now four years removed from a serious knee injury, could be poised for a breakout. The 28-year-old from Whistler, B.C., earned his first World Cup podium last season with super-G bronze in Beaver Creek, Colo.
"I don't think he's quite found the consistency in what he's actually able to produce and he hasn't necessarily brought his best game yet to the World Cup," Kucera said. "So I think he's one that, if you start putting together what we've been seeing in training, can be quite interesting."
Seger, the 26-year-old North Vancouver, B.C., native who placed fourth in the super-G at 2021 worlds, is looking to join Crawford in the front of the pack also.
"I think for me, bit of an off year last year but [Seger] can really be dangerous," Kucera said.
Jeffrey Read, Kyle Alexander, Trevor Philp and Sam Mulligan round out the Canadian contingent.