Skier Marie-Michèle Gagnon alters training, diet for Olympic medal pursuit
Reigning Canadian alpine champion also launches ski fitness website
As Marie-Michèle Gagnon reflects on her solid 2016-17 season, and that of the entire Canadian alpine ski team, she considers the next step.
Canada's athletes reached the podium 50 times in World Cup action while adding 14 world championship medals and four Crystal Globes as season champion.
"We always had an edge because we were a strong team, but had too much raw strength," says Gagnon, a top podium contender in alpine combined entering her 10th season on the World Cup circuit. "I was watching the European teams [in the off-season] and they did their training quite differently from us.
"They're doing a lot of ski-specific movements, more agility and movements utilizing body weight, whereas we're just lifting [weights] and getting super strong. Once you get that strength, you need to keep it and refine details, and that's where I was seeking more ski-specific movements in our training."
Gagnon, who also competes in slalom, giant slalom, downhill and super-G, will open the season this weekend racing the GS in Sölden, Austria after a busy summer that included the launch of her own ski fitness website, Alpine Strength (www.alpinestrength.com).
A fitness buff, the 27-year-old Gagnon partnered with world-renowned trainer and ski coach Alejo Hervas to create more accessible training programs for the racing enthusiast and recreational skiers.
"As soon as he [Hervas] made changes in our skiing, I could tell the difference. I was moving better," says Gagnon, the reigning Canadian champion in slalom, GS and super-G. "Once I saw the difference on the [ski] hill, I knew I had to share [the new information] with the ski world."
Da new suit 🖤❤️🇨🇦 Thanks <a href="https://twitter.com/HellyHansen?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@hellyhansen</a> ! <a href="https://t.co/fm11fO06xo">https://t.co/fm11fO06xo</a>—@MarieMGagnon
Gagnon, who reveals she's finding herself "more and more," plans to compete for several more years but has started to think more about life after athletics, even developing a business plan "for fun" for her website.
Retired Canadian slalom skier and 2010 Olympian Anna Goodman lives two blocks from Gagnon in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and will oversee and maintain the website. The ski racer training programs are now available on the website, with the launch of the rec programs scheduled for Nov. 1. From there, Gagnon and Goodman will build a marketing plan.
"Anna wants to do this for a living," says Gagnon, who also answers to "Mitch," which she points out represents her tomboy side. "She is super artistic, always good at photography and website studies. I have all my people in place. I wouldn't take this on myself, especially in an Olympic year."
I spent a lot more time doing giant slalom and speed and almost no slalom, which is a little nerve-wracking because it was always my discipline.— Canada's Marie-Michele Gagnon on her off-season training
Gagnon made her Winter Games debut in 2010 at Vancouver and four years later dislocated her left shoulder in Sochi, Russia after straddling a gate and falling near the top of the course during the slalom run of the combined, her first event of those Olympics. However, the ailing Canadian persevered, racing three more times and placing ninth in slalom.
Gagnon believes her best chance of a podium finish at the Winter Olympics in February is in the combined, which involves downhill and slalom. To that end, she did speed training for six weeks in the summer, split between Argentina and Chile.
"I spent a lot more time doing GS [giant slalom] and speed and almost no slalom, which is a little nerve-wracking because it was always my discipline," said Gagnon, who ranked seventh in the combined last season on the World Cup circuit, 15th in GS and 15th in slalom.
Besides her teammates, Gagnon trained with American Lindsey Vonn, who boasts 39 World Cup downhill wins, and 2017 downhill world champion Ilka Stuhec of Slovakia.
"It was interesting and motivating," says Gagnon, who has won 14 Canadian titles across slalom, GS, super-G and super combined since making her World Cup debut in 2008. "They were pushing me. I was two seconds behind Vonn and able to close the gap [to 1.5 seconds]. You have a benchmark in Vonn showing you what line to get, where to tuck and do the right things."
Gagnon also tweaked her diet over the summer to include more protein and understands which supplements will help her maintain energy and keep her legs strong.
After finishing sixth — one spot below Vonn — in the combined at the world championships last February in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Gagnon says she needed to raise the mental game in her quest for an Olympics medal in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While Gagnon has a good relationship with her sports psychologist, a conversation is a rare occurrence.
"I find it comes from experience, from being professional," says Gagnon of mental strength. "For sure, it's a difference-maker on the World Cup [circuit]. Sometimes, some of the best skiers in the world are not having success because of something on the mental side.
"I work on meditation. I go to Yoga and it calms you. My boyfriend [U.S. alpine ski racer Travis Ganong] and I help each other. If I need technical and tactical advice I'll go to him. A lot of mental strength comes from trusting your program and coaches. You have to buy in all the way."