The Canadian Alpine Ski Team is off to a slow start in the medal count, but thanks to Erik Guay the team at last has some hardware to celebrate.
At Val Gardena, Italy on Dec. 17, Guay placed third in the super G, earning his 14th career World Cup medal - tying Ken Read for second among Canadian athletes in total medals. Steve Podborski still holds that record with 20.
Michael Walchhofer of Austria destroyed the course with a time of 1:34.35, followed by Germany's Stephan Keppler in 1:35.02 Guay's time was 1:35.16.
"I'm feeling really good," he said. "I was feeling it in the start. I charged hard out of the start gate. I made a small mistake on the top section when I went for the outside gate and that probably cost me four or five tenths (of a second), but besides that I was able to ski very well on the bottom. I was good over the rolls, feeling supple, feeling loose, so we'll see how that plays out for tomorrow's (downhill) race."
Three other Canadians cracked the top-20, with Manuel Osborne-Paradis 15th and Francois Bourque 19th.
Whistler's Robbie Dixon missed a gate and was a DNF.
There were no podiums on the second day of competition, a Dec. 18 downhill, but the men's speed team was solid with five athletes placing in the top 20 - a feat that ranks as the top performance ever by a Canadian speed team. The only performance that could top it was in 2009 when four members of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team placed in the top 10.
Manuel Osborne-Paradis led the way in Val Gardena in eighth place, while Robbie Dixon tied for 10th. Erik Guay was 12th, Louis-Pierre Helie 13th (his best World Cup performance to date) and Benjamin Thomsen 16th (also a personal best). Jan Hudec was the only racer to finish out of the points in 44 th place.
"You know what, that was unbelievable," said Helie after the race. Helie had only cracked the top 30 once before, placing 22nd at Lake Louise in 2009.
"I just charged from the start to the finish. I attacked really well.... I couldn't ask for more right now. I made a few mistakes, but I really attacked like I know I can. I'm really happy with that, because I've been struggling a little bit lately."
This was Thomsen's best result as well, and represented his seventh career World Cup start.
The course was challenging with 17 jumps from top to bottom. Switzerland's Silvan Zubbriggen earned his first World Cup gold medal. He was followed by Romed Baumann of Austria. Swiss veteran Didier Cuche placed third.
In Val d'Isere, France the Canadian women's speed team showed a lot of improvement. The super G was cancelled because of a snowstorm, but organizers managed to stage the downhill and a super combined.
Britt Janyk placed 13th in the downhill, less than 0.2 seconds back of the top 10.
"Yeah, that's a little more like it," she said after placing outside the top 30 in her first three races this season. "I haven't got off to the type of start I was hoping for this season but this is something that I can definitely build off. I skied well today and I know that I can be in there, be in the mix. I just need to get back to doing it consistently and today was the first step."
American Lindsey Vonn took the win and the lead in the overall World Cup standings. Vonn shared the podium with Nadi Kamer and Lara Gut of Switzerland.
Marie-Michele Gagnon had a strong showing in the super combined event, finishing in 12th place. Vonn was victorious once again, followed by Elisabeth Goergl and Nicole Hosp of Austria.
Gagnon was sitting 25th after the super G race, but jumped 13 spots with the second fastest slalom of the day.
"I wanted to keep realistic through the season and not be disappointed," said Gagnon. "So I kept my goals to being in the top 30 in two disciplines. One the speed side I am really stoked to do more. My downhill earlier this week was really rusty but it was so much fun, just a thrill going down.
"I would say at this point that yes, my expectations have changed a little bit, but I still want to be realistic."