Manuel Osborne-Paradis may have been raised in North Vancouver and consider Invermere his primary residence these days, but for the formative years of his life as a ski racer he was a member of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. From there he progressed to the B.C. Ski Team before joining the Canadian Alpine Ski Team in 2004.
He has come a long way in those five years. Osborne-Paradis is entering this season as a top medal prospect for Canada, both on the World Cup circuit and in the 2010 Winter Games. He was the top Canadian in downhill last year, ranking sixth overall and earning three World Cup medals. He captured a gold and a bronze in the second-to-last World Cup events last season in Kvitfjell, Norway. He also won a bronze medal in Val Gardena, Italy, and placed in the top-10 in three other races.
Osborne-Paradis was back in Whistler last week at a fundraiser for Own The Podium, a program that has shored up funding for national teams to cover the cost of things like camps, sports science, coaching and access to leading performance experts. Every Canadian athlete competing in 2010 will use training techniques and technologies developed specifically to give Canadian athletes an edge against the competition.
Osborne-Paradis he has personally benefited from Own The Podium, including from a training camp at Whistler before the World Cup downhill races in Norway.
Now, with a World Cup win under his belt, he is feeling confident that he can compete against anyone in the world in 2010. After he qualifies, that is.
"I'd like to be winning races right off the bat," he said. "I need to use all my energy to qualify (for a quota spot in 2010). The best thing is to get that monkey off my back right away."
By the time the Olympic qualification period wraps up on Jan. 22, Osborne-Paradis and his teammates will have been training on snow for three months and competing for over two months. He says it's easy to burn out with all the travel and competition, but over the years he's learned to pace himself. The goal is to peak in February for the Games, where the men's downhill event will kick off the competitions in Whistler.
"Every year you mature as a person in your sport, in terms of what you do for it and what you get out of it," he said. "This year it's really stepped up with extra funding and the Olympics. Everyone has pumped up their training... and seeing how far we can take it and still stay motivated.
"The goal is to qualify fast, get that spot, stay rested and have my body ready to go (at Games time). That's the big goal, but we'd all like to do well in the World Cups as well."
While Osborne-Paradis is obviously a top candidate for the Canadian team, there is a lot of competition on the team and nobody is assured a spot at this point. A maximum of four Canadian men will be able to race in the Olympic downhill, and Canada's team has depth right now with Robbie Dixon, Jan Hudec, Erik Guay, John Kucera, Francois Bourque and others looking to compete at home in 2010.
Osborne-Paradis is feeling confident, buoyed by his success last season.
"It's helped a lot. There are always days in the summer where you'll have a bad day of skiing and everybody beats you, and it can take a toll on you. The difference is that this year I know I can be the best on any given day, and the bad days don't affect me as much."
Growing up and training in Whistler also made a difference. Being surrounded on the national team by other skiers from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club - Britt and Mike Janyk, Robbie Dixon - he appreciated the opportunity he had to race here, and the support of the community.
"At the same time we always had a good time, we tried not to take it too seriously and forget to have fun," he said.