The Canadian Alpine Ski Team has netted a lot of firsts in the four years since Ken Read took over the reins at Alpine Canada, and a lot of those have to do with Canadian Alpine Ski Team vet Thomas Grandi of Canmore, Alberta.
Last season Grandi landed Canada’s first men’s World Cup giant slalom win, then its first back-to-back GS wins, and the first World Cup medal by a Canadian male in slalom.
The 2005-06 season has been epic for Grandi. Heading into the events at Shiga Kogen, Japan last weekend he had a bronze in giant slalom and a silver in slalom, as well as 10 top-10 finishes. Things only got better.
In the first Shiga Kogen slalom Grandi picked up a bronze medal, behind Benjamin Raich and Akira Sasaki of Japan.
More impressive was the fact that Whistler’s own Michael Janyk finished fourth, just two one-hundredths of a second back of Grandi. It was the first time that two Canadians have ever finished in the top-five of a World Cup slalom.
"It was a great day in the land of the rising sun," joked Grandi. "Under overcast skies and hard snow in the first run, but soft conditions in the afternoon, the carving Canucks showed that we are a force to be reckoned with.
"I owe Mike a big one today as he pushed me to ski to the limit in the second run.
"There was a loudspeaker at the top of the hill and I heard that Mike was in the lead and that nobody could touch his time… I was very motivated to challenge Mike and so I skied aggressively from start to finish and put together one of my best slalom runs ever."
For his part, Janyk was 18 th after his first run, then went on to put down the fastest second run of the day. His previous best finish in slalom, more than a year ago in Slovenia, was sixth place.
If he was annoyed at being bumped off the podium, he didn’t show it.
"This is incredible," he said. "I was very disappointed with my Olympic result because I knew I could ski much better than that. Today’s result is a great indication of the progress I’ve made and I look forward to keeping up this positive momentum all the way through the World Cup Finals."
While Grandi and Janyk stole the show, two other Canadian s also earned points by finishing in the top-30. Jean-Philipp Roy of Ste-Flavie, Quebec was 22 nd , while Patrick Biggs of Orleans, Ontario was 27 th .
The following day, setting another CAST first, Grandi found himself back on the podium again with a second bronze medal around his neck. This time he was behind Kalle Palander of Findland and Reinfried Herbst of Austria, who tied for first.
"Today was almost a carbon copy of yesterday," said Grandi. "The only component missing was my teammates who had a tougher race. It would have been incredible to have another Canadian on or near the podium."
Grandi is contemplating retiring at the end of the season, but some question why he would leave when he’s clearly at the top of his game. And while 33 may seem old for the young Canadian team, some of the top European racers stay in competition into their early 40s.
None of the other Canadians qualified for a second run.
In the women’s slalom Brigitte Acton managed to finish 20 th . The previous day she was a DNF after skiing off course.
Grandi’s two medals bring the CAST’s total to 10 for the season – four by Grandi, three by Erik Guay, one by Francois Bourque, one by Emily Brydon and one by Genevieve Simard.
The goal for the team was to win six medals this season, and eight races still remain – the World Cup finals at Are, Sweden.
Five athletes have made the World Cup final team by being in the top-30 of their disciplines – Grandi, Janyk, Bourque, Simard, Erik Guay. Stefan Guay has also qualified by winning the World Junior Championship giant slalom.
Erik announced this week that he would not compete in the downhill because of a calf injury. He may compete in the super G.