By Bob Barnett
SESTRIERE, Italy – Alpine Canada’s goal for the Torino Olympics was one medal of any colour. But with only the men’s slalom remaining — the most unpredictable of alpine events — the chances of achieving that goal rest with Thomas Grandi having two exceptional runs.
However Max Gartner, Alpine Canada’s chief athletic officer, is taking solace in the three fourth-place finishes and one fifth the young Canadian team has recorded at these Olympics.
“For me, looking beyond the medal count, I think we have shown as a team, especially with the three fourths — those people, it’s their first Olympic experiences and they certainly didn’t fold under the pressure. And I think that bodes well,” Gartner said Friday following Genevieve Simard’s fifth place in the women’s giant slalom.
Canadians Erik Guay, Francois Bourque and Kelly Vanderbeek recorded fourth place finishes at these Games. Vanderbeek and Guay posted their results in super G, while Bourque was fourth in the men’s GS.
“Sometimes, to be honest with you, a fourth place is maybe not something bad in the long run. Because you know you’re not quite there and you need to work a little harder here and change this. While a third place, you know you’ve got a medal and… the tendency could be to think you’re already there, and then your motivation is not quite as good,” Gartner said.
“So I’m looking at that as… not a positive but we’ve got to make one more little notch up, and it’s not much.”
And the Canadians who competed in Italy should be able to build on their experiences here.
“I’m very proud of the team and the way they responded,” Gartner continued. “I’ve always said the Olympic Games are a bit of a momentum thing. If you start off strong early you get on a roll and things seem to go your way, and if it doesn’t then it becomes more difficult.
“I’m really proud of the way they’ve responded after Erik couldn’t run. (An injury kept Guay out of the men’s downhill.)
“Even in the men’s downhill, the young guys all had personal bests. We’ve got lots of athletes who’ve had great experience here, coming in feeling the pressure of the Olympics. We’ve got four years to 2010 and if we can tweak a couple of things, you know, we’re not far away from four medals.”
With the youth of the team and Alpine Canada’s program on solid financial and organizational ground, Gartner sees lots of reason for optimism, both at the World Cup level and for Whistler in 2010.
“I think there’s a lot of athletes going to walk away from our program here feeling pretty good about it. They didn’t get the hardware but they’re feeling like we’re in the game and I think that’s motivational... people are going to be motivated to train hard and take that next step.”
The Alpine Canada program has changed in recent years, broadening its base from downhill, and Gartner said the results are starting to show.
“I think we’ve turned from a downhill nation to becoming a versatile team and we’ve made giant slalom and super G our basis, because that’s the basis for all the events, and I think that’s where our strength lies now.
“We know we’ve got to work on the women’s slalom, we’ve got to do some work on the women’s downhill. The rest of it I think we’ve got people that on a given day can be as fast as anybody, and that helps the young ones coming into the program, because they can measure themselves against these people.”
The program should continue to build on that momentum this summer and through the next four years.
“(Alpine Canada President) Ken Read’s done a great job turning this around and I think the program has responded athletically as well,” Gartner said. “And with having the Olympics at home it’s a cycle where there’s good support. So we’re looking at the next four years as our opportunity to really make a move on the competition.”
Of the 2006 Olympics Gartner concluded: “All in all I’m happy, although I’d be a lot happier…. Our goal was to get a medal. We’ve got one more shot tomorrow.”