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Start, stop, stop, start

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I am writing to you this week from the 2006 Olympic track in San Sicario, Italy. We have returned for a downhill and two super G races. Last week we were in beautiful Cortina D’Ampedzzo, Italy for three races, and Cortina was as beautiful as ever.

The conditions in Cortina were great, even with the lack of snow this year. We had two training runs early in the week and then started with a super G race on Friday. Unfortunately on Friday it was pouring rain when we woke up and it did not look like we were going to get a race off. We waited around all day, as the rain continued to pour down and officials continued to delay the start. Finally at 1:30 in the afternoon they confirmed the start for 2 p.m.! At that time the rain had let up but the wind had picked up speed. The race conditions definitely weren’t ideal but that’s ski racing — you have to be ready for anything. I remember doing the same thing a few years back in Whistler for the Canadian Championships super G. It can happen there and it can happen at the World Cup level too.

On Saturday we woke up and the conditions were much better. It was still warm out but at least the skies were a little clearer and it had become cold enough to freeze the surface snow. We started only 15 minutes behind schedule and I had bib 42 — I was ready to race.

I got into the start gate and was looking forward to running the track. When the time came I pushed out with force and was on course and completely focused. Just after the first turn and steep pitch I looked ahead into the next turn only to see a yellow flag waving for me to stop. Quickly I stood up out of my tuck and came to a stop… my first time being flagged in a downhill race! I took my skis off and walked out through the fence, and jumped back on the chairlift to get back to the start shack.

There were 54 girls at the start for the downhill and if you are flagged you have to start before the last girl. So, I got back to the top, gave our tech the skis to work on for a few minutes and got my head back into race mode. On my way up the chair I tried to calm down a bit and went over the section of the course that I had just skied to figure out what I could have done better. I decided that the yellow flag was a great opportunity for me — I could have a better start the second time around, there was a turn where I could be cleaner, and that I would do everything a little bit faster.

I got into the gate after number 52 left the start and again, was ready to go. “Racer ready, 10 seconds,” said the starter. I put my poles over the wand and, just as the five-second countdown started, I heard, “start stop.”

At this point I pull back from the start and start laughing! The starter was laughing as well, what else were we to do? The funny part for me was remembering our summer training when we practised our starts. The coaches would give us a countdown but then every once in a while they would give us a “start stop” to keep us on our toes. We had practised the exact situation I was going through.

About 30 seconds later I left the start for a second time and was back on course. I did ski the top section better than my first run and when I crossed the finish line I was in 17 th ! Not only was I pretty happy to see that placing, I was also just happy to get down to the finish line without being flagged again! Wow, what a day. Last weekend in Cortina definitely made me realize that you need to be prepared for anything at a speed event, and how to make the best of any situation.

While we were in Cortina, the men were racing in Val D’Isere, France where Eric Guay and Manuel Osborne-Paradis, were second and third in the downhill. The last time two Canadians were on the podium together was with Gen Simard and Allison Forsyth in 2005 in a giant slalom race.

After this weekend in San Sicario we will have a few days off before travelling to Sweden for the FIS Alpine World Championships. I think the team as a whole is really building up for the worlds and we are ready to do something big there. When I talk to you next it will be from Sweden, but until then keep watching and cheering us on.

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