Canadians strong in qualifying, come up short in races
With the drought of snow stretching clear across Western Canada, the World Cup speed series at Lake Louise once again took place on a narrow strip of man-made snow winding through dirt, rock and grass.
Thanks to the hard work of almost 200 volunteers, the downhill and super-G course were in good shape for two days of racing last weekend. Proof of this is the fact that the weekend ended as predictably as ever; with the Austrian team on top and the Canadians heading back to the drawing board.
Team Canada looked good coming out of the final training run which now determines start position on race day with Canadian Downhill Champion Erik Guay coming within one-one-hundredth of a second of the being the first racer out of the gate on Saturday.
The 21-year-old from Mont Tremblant finished 31 st overall in the final training run on Friday. Because the top-30 skiers race in reverse order in the World Cup, Guay came within one position of leading the charge the following day.
First in line means harder snow, no ruts, no snow piles and generally faster times. As it was, Guay would start the next day with bib number 53 rd , based on his qualifying runs and a complicated point system.
"A top 30 start would have been great but it didnt happen," said mens speed coach Burkhard Schaffer. "The athletes are racing hard and some days are better than others. The effort and motivation are there but we still have a way to go to get where we want to be."
The team showed just how far they have to go in the downhill on Saturday.
Reigning Lake Louise downhill champion Stephan Eberharter of Austria took the gold medal for the second year in a row with a time of one minute, 42.61 seconds.
Austrian teammate Hannes Trinkl was second in 1:43.10.
Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway took the bronze medal in 1:43.45, ruining what would have been an Austrian sweep of the top-five, with Josef Strobl, Fritz Strobl and Michael Walchhofer finishing fourth, fifth and sixth. Bode Miller of the U.S. finished seventh.
In total, the Austrians claimed 11 of the top-15 downhill spots, suggesting that the rest of the world needs to do some work to catch up to the Austrian program as well.
Although he made it look easy, Eberharter, 33, said it was a challenging course.
"Its never easy. Its really hard work all the way down this course," he told reporters. "Im very happy to defend my victory in Lake Louise."
Vincent Lavoie of Quebec City was the top Canadian in 45 th with a time of 1:46.29 3.68 seconds behind Eberharter.
For Lavoie, 25, it was a victory to be racing at all after missing World Cup competition for the past three seasons with injuries. Moving up 22 spaces from 67 th out of the start gate was the icing on the cake.
"I pushed really hard to get back here and be able to race at this level," said Lavoie. "Its a pretty good start. I dont want to raise everyones hopes but this was a good race Ill keep working."
Guay was 47 th in 1:46.37.
Whistlers Jeff Hume was 56 th in 1:47.15, Jan Hudec of Banff was 60 th in 1:47.73, Francos Bourque of New Richmond, Quebec, was 61 st in 1:47.93 and Mike Giannelli of Burnaby was 62 nd in 1:48.92.
In the super-G on Sunday, Eberharter won his second gold medal in as many days, and his 19 th World Cup victory with a time of 1:23.39. He was trailed by Austrian teammate Josef Strobl in 1:23.57. Didier Cuche of Switzerland took the bronze medal in 1:23.76.
"I built up speed in the bottom section and I nailed it," said Eberharter, who opted to run the course on his downhill skis after the course inspection that morning.
Mike Giannelli and Francois Bourque were the only Canadians to finish the race, finishing in 50 th and 51 st respectively with times of 1:27.43 and 1:27.45.
Canadian super-G champion Jeff Hume, Erik Guay, Vincent Lavoie and Brad Spence did not finish.
"I fought it today," said Giannelli. "It was really fast and you really had to be aggressive and think ahead. We were all over the fences today.
"Weve got a good group and everyones going for it. Coming from the back we have to ski 110 per cent to make it into the World Cup points. Thats where wed like to be."
The Canadian men face their second challenge this weekend with downhill and super-G events at Beaver Creek, Colorado.