Members of Canada's entry into the team event at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships acknowledged they weren't sure what the head-to-head, tournament-style race might hold.
After the nation took a seventh-place finish at Sochi-Rosa Khutor, Russia in 2016, two Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumni hoped to help lift the squad in the standings. In the end, Stefanie Fleckenstein and Jack Crawford put in their best and helped Canada to a gold medal, edging Austria in the final in Are, Sweden earlier this month.
"It was a little surprising. We went into it not knowing exactly how strong our team was, but we knew we had a pretty good chance to podium. It was the cherry on top managing to pull off the win against some very strong competitors," Crawford said. "We were all really tired and one day, we had to go out and perform for four or five runs. Obviously, all of us didn't perform on each of those runs, but we managed to have at least two people come down and have fast runs every single time. All the stars aligned and we managed to pull through."
Fleckenstein, meanwhile, crammed the giant slalom into the same day, so she spent much of the day ascending and descending the mountain. The 40th in the individual event wasn't a promising omen, but she turned things around afterward.
"It was pretty cool because we had pretty low expectations after last year. I had never really done a team event that was that competitive, so we were really excited about the whole situation and it gave a lot of confidence heading into the next couple races," she said.
In Sweden, Fleckenstein also took 14th in the Alpine combined, 22nd in the slalom, 30th in the downhill and 31st in the super G.
"It was awesome getting to race everything, but it was a long trip," she said. "The first few days were unbelievable. The downhill training run had perfectly clear skies and it was cold and sunny, so that was amazing. The weather kind of rolled in and out for the rest of the days and unfortunately for me, I started the tech races with higher bibs and the temperatures went up. The courses were deteriorating a lot faster than in the speed events. I took what I was given and made the best of it."
Fleckenstein also would have hoped to have brought a few better feelings to the course, though she hopes to get a better sense of Europe and international racing before the 2018 event.
"I just needed to take more confidence into the races. We don't get to ski in Europe very often, so I guess I put too much pressure on myself and didn't have the confidence I needed," she said.
Crawford, meanwhile, hoped to add to his medal collection after earning a super-G silver in 2016. However, he found himself just off the podium with fourth-place finishes in the downhill and giant slalom.
"It was a little disappointing to not manage to grab myself a podium on the individual side of things, but it was definitely a strong performance. A lot of those guys who were ahead of me are competing at the World Cup level and trying to break through into the top 30, so it feels really good moving forward as a skier knowing that I'm not that far off the next level," Crawford said.
Both racers attended the 2016 event in Russia, but those races were fraught with poor weather and a general ambivalence among townspeople, and preferred it their second time around.
"Everyone in the town was really excited about the event, so that brought a lot of excitement to the athletes. A lot of parents and European families came out, so it was a pretty cool scene," Fleckenstein said.
"It's a very cool venue and it's an awesome chance to get on that track before the next World Championships, which is actually in Are (Sweden) in two years," Crawford added.
Both athletes were back in Canada to wrap the NorAm Cup circuit in Quebec this weekend.
At Mont Ste-Marie, Crawford finished third overall and hit the podium with a third in the giant slalom on March 18. Fleckenstein placed fifth overall, and second overall in the downhill, after races at Val St-Come and Garceau.