With an average age of less than 23 for the men, and less than 22 for the women, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team (CAST) is poised to become a serious contender on the World Cup circuit. They are a fast, ambitious and talented group, and every athlete has proven themselves capable of winning at the highest level.
With every race, more Canadian skiers are qualifying, and many are landing in the top-15 with consistency. Canadian technical skiers are in the running in almost every race, and the speed skiers are more than keeping up Melanie Turgeons gold medal performance at the World Championships is an example. The feeling on the team is that the Canadians are very close to a breakthrough.
This winter the national team will get another nudge towards the podium, with Alpine Canada Alpin (ACA) recruiting some of the top coaches in the world to guide a restructured national program. For athletes that are a fraction of a second away from World Cup glory, it could make all the difference.
Last week the ACA announced that Stephan Kurz, one of the most successful womens coaches in the world with the German team, will join CAST this year as head coach of the womens program.
"Stephan Kurz has coached German racers to at least 60 World Cup, World Championship and Olympic medals," said ACA President Ken Read. "Adding his skills to the Canadian team marks another leap forward in our Podium 2010 strategy to make Canada a world leader in alpine racing."
The womens program will also benefit from the efforts of a strong group of returning coaches. Piotr Jelen will continue to lead the womens speed team, Jim Pollock will coach the womens technical team, and Hugues Ansermoz will work with the development team.
Austrian Burkhard Schaffer, who coached the mens speed team last season, will return to the mens program but has been promoted to the head coach position. He will also remain coach of the speed team. He is supported by Dusan Grasic, in charge of the mens World Cup technical team, and Glenn Thomsen, who continues to lead the national development team.
"This powerful new structure is founded on what has made Austria, Germany, and the United States dominant racing powers," said Read. "Alpine Canada Alpin is fully committed to providing the financial, technical, and human resources our athletes need to win."
Alpine Canada Alpin has also recently committed significant resources to a revamped national development program for young skiers of all ages across Canada, as part of the Podium 2010 strategy to increase the number of Canadian athletes involved in the sport, and help consistently put Canadian athletes atop the podium at all levels of competition.
Canadian coach Don Lyon will also join CAST in a support role after working with the Quebec team for several years. Some of the athletes who have risen to the top under Lyons coaching include 1982 downhill champion Gerry Sorensen, six-time World Cup winner Laurie Graham, 1988 double Olympic bronze medallist Karen Percy Lowe, 1992 Olympic Gold medallist Kerrin Lee-Gartner, 1993 World Champion Kate Pace-Lindsay, and 2002 World Champion Melanie Turgeon in her early years with the team.
The coaching changes are the latest changes to benefit the national ski team, and part of an aggressive program to improve the team that was created when Read took over as president of the ACA in 2002. The goal is to create future Olympians by supporting the sport at every level of competition, and supporting athletes with the same training opportunities and funding that athletes from other nations receive.