By Andrew Mitchell
With a team record of 14 medals and 45 top-10 results on the World Cup circuit this past season, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team has stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Buoyed by new Olympic funding and driven by CEO Ken Read to believe they can be the best in the world, Canadian athletes are a threat to podium in every single race. Not only are the skiers finishing with better results, more Canadians are qualifying for second runs and finishing in the points (the top-30 in World Cup races) than ever before.
In many ways, the Canadians are just getting started. For one thing, the Canadians are one of the youngest teams on the World Cup circuit, with an average age of 24. For another, some athletes are just starting to hit their stride — five of the nine athletes to win medals this season had never stepped on a podium before, and almost every member of the team had a personal best result.
And Canada noticed. The national newspapers, generally focused on hockey during the winter season, devoted more space than ever to the team’s exploits. In Whistler it wasn’t uncommon for bartenders to tune some of their televisions to World Cup races, alongside afternoon basketball and football games.
Last week it was a tired but happy national team at last returned to Canada and Whistler to take part in the Pontiac GMC Canadian Championships. Among them were siblings Britt and Mike Janyk, both of whom had breakthrough seasons on the World Cup circuit, and who together make up one of the year’s most compelling stories.
Both were on skis by the time they were two years old, and took an interest in racing at an early age that prompted their parents, Andree and Bill Janyk, to make the move to Whistler from Vancouver. They went to school here, skied with Whistler Mountain Ski Club, and have skied every skiable inch of their home mountains.
But while they share DNA and the drive to be the best, both took different routes in reaching the top echelons of their sport.
For Mike Janyk, who focuses on slalom, his career has been a steady climb to the top. He started at the back, cracked the top-30 to improve his starting position, and, finding his consistency, started to attack the lead pack. He broke into the top-10 for the first time in the 2004-05 season season, placing sixth and ninth, and then sailed into the top-five for the first time in 2005-06 with a fourth place finish in Japan. This season he placed in the top-10 in seven of 10 World Cup slaloms — and the only races he didn’t finish in the top-10 he didn’t finish at all, a testament to his aggressive, all-or nothing style.