The Speed Queens are back in town. You know, those dashing young skiers on the Canadian women's downhill team - Janyk, Vanderbeek, Brydon and the rest. They're all in Whistler this week to attend a critical dryland camp. And this is one camp where no one can afford to rest on her laurels. For the last few days, they've all been running and jumping and cycling and generally sweating hard to get prepared for what is incontestably the most important season of their collective careers.
It's amazing how a year can change things. Last summer, the Queens were coming off one of the most successful racing seasons in Canadian skiing history. With two World Cup victories and a handful of podiums, they looked ready to set the ski world on fire. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. Not so this summer. With zero podiums to their credit in 2008-09, the female speedsters are virtually back at square one.
And the gauntlet has definitely been thrown down. Says coach Rob Boyd: "It's not business as usual this summer. Last season was hugely disappointing for us. We can't afford a repeat. If we want to win some Olympic hardware this winte,r we're going to have to get tougher and make some even bigger sacrifices." Hard words. But certainly not misplaced given his athletes' result-freefall. Adds Boyd: "Speed Queens? They certainly didn't live up to that title last year, did they? Now they've all got something to prove..."
Although their tiaras might be a bit tarnished after last season's dismal World Cup campaign, there are clear signs afoot now that Boyd's charges are ready to make the necessary adjustments (both physically and mentally) to get back to where they were in 2008.
Indeed, some have already made life-altering decisions in their quest to get it just right for that one all-consuming race in February of 20l0. "I'm feeling really good about the changes I've made this summer," says team leader Britt Janyk. "More importantly. I'm really happy about living out west again."
Her mouth stretches into that disarming little-girl grin of hers. And all of a sudden I catch a glimpse of the young teenager who used to rip up the mountain with her brother Michael and their posse of local kids in the mid-90s. It's a look I haven't seen on her face in months. "It's so much fun to reconnect with Whistler again," she explains. "I'm a much more balanced person for it - and a stronger athlete too."
And then she pauses. Tries to find just the right words to use. "Moving back here was certainly the right decision for me," she continues. "I grew up on the West Coast. I have a passion for being in the mountains. You know, playing in big conditions. And I really missed that." She laughs. "I also missed the lifestyle here. I just love coming back and meeting friends who are way more excited about talking of their last big mountain bike ride than about my World Cup results..."