The Canadian Alpine Ski Team kick started its speed season at Lake Louise Winterstart this past weekend, with the men racing downhill and super G. For a few athletes, namely Whistler's Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Calgary's John Kucera, it was a return to racing after long absences due to injuries, and on that front the event went well.
In the downhill, world downhill champion Erik Guay, who had knee surgery in September, led the way for Canada in sixth place while Jan Hudec — returning after a two-medal season — was 17th. Osborne-Paradis also made points in the top 30 after starting 44th to improve his start position in the next race.
"If I look at where I was six weeks ago, I'm absolutely ecstatic with the progress I've made since," said Guay. "I'm just really happy with my run... If I skied the whole course the way I skied the bottom and the top part I will absolutely be competitive. It's not so much the course itself, it's the way I'm skiing it. For the moment I'm just missing the volume (time spent on snow)."
For Osborne-Paradis, who has not raced since January 2011, it was important to be back in the points.
"It's nice to know that you can still be competitive," he said. "With training, you never really know. Catching an edge in the middle I lost quite a bit of speed, but I think, all in all, the skiing is where it needs to be to be competitive. I've just got to get this start number back down where the good guys are and once that happens I'll be race-ready anyways."
Kucera, who hasn't raced at the top level since the first of a string of leg injuries in November of 2009, finished just outside of the top 30 in 36th. Ben Thomsen, one of the team's biggest surprises last year, hit a rock near the top of the course and fell off the pace to finish 45th. Jeffrey Frisch was 48th.
The win went to Norway's Aksel Lund-Svindal by well over half a second in 1:48.31. Max Franz of Austria was second in 1:48.95, while Marco Sullivan of the U.S. and Klaus Kroell of Austria tied for third in 1:48.97.
In the super G the next day there was some controversy with a few Canadian athletes not getting bibs, but the day was big for one athlete in particular. John Kucera placed 14th on the day, earning his first FIS race points since his injury. Guay led the team in 11th, Hudec was 18th and Dustin Cook earned points in 28th, but it was Kucera's result that attracted the most attention.
"I'm in a bit of shock," said Kucera after the race. "I mean, that's huge — just to be able to stack in there with those guys.