By Andrew Mitchell
Every week this season it seems a different Canadian skier is stepping up to the plate. One week it’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis, the next it’s Mike Janyk, the next Kelly VanderBeek and the next John Kucera.
On Thursday, Dec. 20, the medal heroics belonged to 21-year-old Francois Bourque, of Pin Rouge, Quebec, who blew the doors off the competition to place second in a giant slalom in the last World Cup before Christmas at Hinterstoder, Austria.
Although Bourque has been one of Canada’s most consistent skiers in recent years, it was the best result to date of his career.
“A podium just before Christmas, it’s the gift Santa could have brought me,” he said. “After a disappointing season start, this result is a great symbol of my progress and the hard work I have put in correcting minor problems.”
Bourque previously had two bronze medals to his credit, both last season — a bronze in super G and a bronze in GS.
The gold medal at Hinterstoder went to Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, with Bourque finishing just 0.23 back after two runs. Kalle Palander of Finland picked up the bronze.
Of Bourque’s teammates, Thomas Grandi did not finish his run while Patrick Biggs, Jean-Philippe Roy, Julien Cousineau, Erik Guay and John Kucera did not qualify for a second run.
On Wednesday the team took part in a super G, which American skier Bode Miller dominated to cement his lead in the overall World Cup standings. Peter Fill of Italy was second, and Hermann Maier of Austria third.
The top Canadian was Erik Guay in 14 th , with Jeffrey Frisch and John Kucera tying for 29 th place.
While the men’s team raced in Austria, the Canadian women raced a pair of downhill events and a slalom at Val d’Isere — the last two events replacing events that were cancelled at St. Moritz and Megeve due to the lack of snow.
In the first downhill on Dec. 19, Kelly VanderBeek posted her second best career result in downhill, placing seventh. Three weeks previous she placed sixth at Lake Louise.
“It just shows I’m putting together some very consistent performances and I’m really happy about that,” said the 23-year-old from Ontario. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s nice to know that a top-10 feels like that’s where I should be.
“You could tell at inspection that the track was going to be faster and it was. It was quite a bit colder today and it was a beautiful blue sky.”
Emily Brydon was the only other Canadian to crack the top-30, placing 24 th .
The U.S. team is continuing to lead the pack this year on both men’s and women’s sides with Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Kildow placing first and third, separated Renate Goetschl.
A second downhill, on Wednesday, produced similar results, with Kildow placing first, Mancuso second and Anja Paerson of Sweden third. VanderBeek picked up another seventh place result while Brydon — skiing the best in her career — placed 10 th .
“This whole season I’ve been working toward getting top-10 finishes, getting consistent results and getting on a roll,” said Brydon. “So much about our sport is confidence so I feel really good about how this month went.”
Brydon now has four top-10 results to her credit.
Whistler’s Britt Janyk, who has struggled the last two weeks after making points with top-30 finishes in five straight races, found herself back in the points in 24 th place.
The final event for the women’s team was a slalom on Thursday. Marlies Schild of Austria took the win, followed by Annemarie Gerg of Germany and Therese Borssen of Sweden.
Although slalom has been a weak spot for Canadian women in recent years, Brigitte Acton of Montreal is showing a lot of consistency lately in qualifying for second runs. She did so again in France, placing 19 th . As she racks up the points her start positions will improve, improving her future prospects in the process.
Bourque’s silver was the Canadian team’s sixth medal of the season, bringing Alpine Canada halfway to its expectation of 12 medals for the season. The team also has a goal of winning two medals at the FIS World Championships, which take place in Aare, Sweden Feb. 3-18.