Skiing

World Cup alpine season opens with 4 Canadian skiers

When the World Cup season opens this weekend in Solden, Austria, four Canadian women including Marie-Michèle Gagnon and Marie-Pier Préfontaine will race in the hopes of inching their way up the standings.

Gagnon, Prefontaine 'poised for success this season,' Alpine Canada says

The fight for this season's women's overall World Cup title has widened now that two-time defending champion Anna Fenninger is injured and 2013 winner Tina Maze is taking a break. American Lindsay Vonn also announced she would be missing at the start gate when the new season gets underway with a giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier on Saturday.

Enter: Canadian skiers Marie-Pier Préfontaine, Marie-Michele Gagnon, Candace Crawford and Mikaela Tommy. Though the four are overshadowed by main contenders such as American Mikaela Shiffrin, Lara Gut of Switzerland and Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, Alpine Canada remains hopeful.

"After countless hours dedicated to dryland training and summer ski camps in South America and Europe, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team is poised for success this season as our athletes compete against the best in the world," the organization said Thursday. 

Canada's biggest contender is Préfontaine, currently ranked 15th in the GS. She finished in the top 30 in each of the seven World Cup races last season, with a career-best sixth in Kuhtai, Austria, in December.

"I can't changed my mindset because it served me well," Préfontaine, 27, told the QMI Agency, in French. "Now I'd like to make the podium and end the season in the top 10. I know I'll come close if I maintain consistency the way I did last season."

I know it will be a good fight for me to finish in the top 15 because I'm starting from way back.- Marie-Michèle Gagnon

Gagnon, ranked 34th in the world in the giant slalom though 11th in the slalom, returns this season with a new trainer and a recovered left shoulder, which she dislocated in competition at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"I wouldn't say that I'll get to Solden and win the race," she told TVA, a French-language network, in French, earlier this week. "That wouldn't be realistic.

"I know it will be a good fight for me to finish in the top 15 because I'm starting from way back," she said. "I need to find consistency."

Crawford and Tommy represent the next generation of skiers, having finished last year's Nor-Am Cup circuit ranked first and second respectively.

"I'm really excited to be a full-time member of the World Cup team and I'm really looking forward to focusing more on the World Cup circuit," said Crawford, 21. "I'm looking for consistent top 30 finishes in giant slalom and slalom throughout the year."

Fenninger, of Austria, damaged her right knee badly in a training crash Wednesday and was ruled out for the entire season. Maze, one of the last all-event skiers on the circuit, decided to sit out the new campaign, which lacks highlights such as Olympic Games or world championships. Vonn has said she doesn't feel confident about the icy conditions on the race hill, 10 weeks after fracturing an ankle bone.

Add the retirement of Austrian duo Nicole Hosp and Kathrin Zettel, and only two of last year's top-seven skiers are in the start gate 

With files from the Associated Press

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