By Bob Barnett
SESTRIERE, Italy – Francois Bourque today recorded the best ever result by a Canadian male in an Olympic giant slalom, but his disappointment at missing a medal was palpable.
“The Olympics, it’s a little bit of the top three guys or nothing,” Bourque said in a soft voice after finishing fourth on the icy Sises course at Sestriere.
The 21-year-old from New Richmond, Quebec had set the fastest time in this morning’s first run.
“Sure I’m a little bit disappointed to finish fourth, but at the same time if it would have been a normal World Cup I would have been pretty happy too.”
Bourque wound up .92 seconds behind gold medalist Benjamin Raich of Austria. France’s Joel Chenal was second by .07 seconds. Austrian veteran Hermann Maier claimed the bronze medal.
Maier and Raich were tied for third place, behind Bourque and Chenal, after the first run.
“I was pretty happy after my first run but the closer the start was getting the more stress I was starting to feel,” Bourque said at the finish.
“I had a little bit of stomach ache, like if I would punch you in the stomach. And…. that’s the way it goes. I think I will learn for next time. It’s tough luck but… I’ll survive.”
Canmore’s Thomas Grandi wound up 10 th , while J.P. Roy fell on his second run. Ryan Semple’s binding plate separated from his ski on his first run. He did not finish.
Grandi, the veteran of the Canadian men’s team, was impressed by Bourque.
“He had an amazing first run. It’s a difficult place for a young racer to be in. In between runs there was a lot of time to think about what he was doing and the possible outcomes,” said Grandi. “I think even for an experienced racer it’s difficult. So I think Frankie did a great job today.”
In only his third season on the World Cup tour, Bourque’s best results are a pair of third places, in a super G last winter and on an icy GS course at Alta Badia, Italy earlier this winter. He currently sits ninth in the World Cup giant slalom standings. While his first run lead was a surprise to many in the press, it wasn’t to some of the competitors.
“He’s a good skier,” said Kalle Palander of Finland. “There’s no pressure (on him). He likes the ice, like at Alta Badia.”
Palander who wound up ninth, said the morning course was very icy, despite the fact about 20 cm of new snow fell overnight.
Asked about the difference between his two runs Bourque said: “First run I didn’t know I was that fast and second run I said well… It’s pretty hard to feel if you’re fast before you get to the finish. I knew I was going to be somewhere in there, but I wish I was one step closer.”
Grandi, the only Canadian male to ever win in giant slalom at the World Cup level, was disappointed with finishing 10 th .
“I believed in a medal today and I was here to win. It didn’t work out, but that’s ski racing, that’s sports,” he said.
“I think I was really on the edge all day with my grip,” Grandi said of his two runs. “It was really icy and there were turns when I could really carve a clean turn, but then other turns my ski would let go on me…. I just couldn’t string together those turns that I needed to really put together two great runs.”
Grandi was born in Bolzano, Italy and had several cousins in the stands to cheer him on, as well as his mother and his wife Sara Renner, who won a silver medal in cross-country skiing last week. Grandi was hoping to match his wife’s medal performance.
“It was an amazing race to watch, for me,” he said of the women’s team sprint where Renner and teammate Beckie Scott finished second. “It was so exciting, all of us were cheering like crazy. It really inspired me. I just wish maybe it would have happened yesterday, I would have had a little more energy today.”
Grandi still has a shot at an Olympic medal, in Saturday’s slalom. But he won’t be around for the Games in 2010, and may not return to the World Cup circuit next winter.
“That’s still something I have to decide,” he said. “At the end of the season I have to think about my future and what I really want to do, if I still have the passion for this.
“I think if I do leave it’s a good time for me to leave, where there isn’t going to be a gap. There’s going to be a bunch of young guys that are ready to take over and ready to win.”