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Crazy Canucks live on


Way down deep in the back of a drawer I found two very yellow newspaper clippings, from exactly 25 years ago this week. The headline of one says "Canada up for downhill," the other says "Canadians dominate World Cup downhill." Each has a picture of Ken Read, the first Canadian male to win a World Cup ski race.

It was 25 years ago this week, on Dec. 7, 1975, at Val d’Isere, France that Read and the rest of the group that would become known as the Crazy Canucks surprised the sporting world with their performance. Twenty-year-old Read, in the first seed for the first time, wearing bib number one and in the first race of the season, finished first, ahead of Italy’s Herbert Plank and Switzerland’s Bernard Russi. Dave Irwin was fourth, Jim Hunter ninth, Steve Podborski 10 th and Dave Murray 13 th .

To put in perspective just how long ago that was, a story on the other side of one clipping reports that the Calgary Cowboys beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-4 in a World Hockey Association game that same weekend. The Resort Municipality of Whistler was exactly three months and one day old.

This weekend, the World Cup ski racing tour is back in Val d’Isere for the annual Criterium de la Premier Neige. This year’s Canadian team would probably be happy with a finish in the top 10 at Val d’Isere. Although they are certainly capable of that, the talent level is so deep on the World Cup these days that results are difficult to come by.

There likely won’t be much notice of the Canadians this weekend, unless they duplicate the feat of the Crazy Canucks. Alpine ski racing has never enjoyed the popularity of hockey or some other sports in Canada, but being a winter sport it still holds a place in the Canadian psyche, even for those who have never enjoyed the pleasure of sliding down a mountain. Hockey Night in Canada recognized this way back in 1970, and used the break between periods of a nationally televised game to show Betsy Clifford’s winning run at that year’s World Alpine Ski Championships.

The success the Crazy Canucks had in the late ’70s and early ’80s, was a source of national pride and inspiration. Here was a small, close-knit group of athletes prepared to challenge the status quo and do whatever it took to win. They captured the imagination of non-Canadians, too. At the height of his career, during the 1981 and ’82 seasons, Podborski was perhaps the most recognized Canadian in Europe, his only rival being the late Gilles Villeneuve.

The Crazy Canucks’ legacy is by no means restricted to ski racing. Snowboarders, freestyle skiers and new school riders since have all paid homage to the courage, daring and tenacity of the Crazy Canucks, as have athletes in other sports.

Read, Podborski, Irwin and Murray were certainly not the first Canadians to excel at ski racing on the international stage; the list of female Canadian ski champions begins with Lucile Wheeler in the 1950s and continues through Anne Heggtveit and, of course, Nancy Greene. Champions since then include Gerry Sorenson, Kerrin Lee-Gartner and Kate Pace.

But the Crazy Canucks are who most people remember and relate to. A bit of their heritage exists in the athletes at last weekend’s freestyle World Cup and those at this weekend’s snowboard World Cup. And in Canadians everywhere.

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