By Andrew Mitchell
With two more medals and yet another close one this past weekend, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team is well on its way to its goal of 12 World Cup podiums for the 2006-07 season.
The star of the weekend was Mont Tremblant’s Erik Guay, who picked up his second and third downhill medals of the season at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, including the first World Cup victory of his career.
He also did it in typical Guay style, flirting with disaster at every turn and jump to try to squeeze a few more fractions of a second out of the course.
After struggling with injuries the past two seasons, Guay has steadily improved with every race this year leading up to his first World Cup podium in nearly three seasons at Val D’Isere, France on Jan. 20. He came close to a podium in the recent FIS World Championships, placing fourth after pulling out of a near-crash, and he carried that momentum into Germany.
In the first race, on Friday, Guay placed third behind Andrej Jerman of Slovenia and Hans Grugger of Austria. Guay was just 0.44 seconds back of the leader on that day, and 0.22 back of Grugger.
Two other Canadians finished top-30, with Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Jan Hudec in 22 nd and 23 rd respectively.
Guay’s golden moment came the next day, putting him in an elite class with Canadian downhillers Steve Podborski, Ken Read, Rob Boyd, Todd Brooker, Dave Irwin, Cary Mullen and Edi Podivinsky. Mullen was the last member of the Canadian men’s team to win a World Cup downhill, in 1994.
In his second race Guay was perfect, finishing half a second ahead of Jerman. Didier Cuche of Switzerland was a close third.
Guay also did it his way.
“It played out at the bottom,” he said. “I had a good line and brought a lot of speed into it. I took as many risks as possible.
“It’s amazing. I came close yesterday and have been close all year. It feels great to finally put it all together. This has been in the works for a while. I feel like my skiing has been getting better and better all the time.”
Jan Hudec and Manuel Osborne-Paradis also finished in the top-10, placing fifth and seventh respectively — a solid effort for the team.
Guay is now ranked fifth in downhill, while Osborne-Paradis is ninth.
The last event of the weekend was a night slalom in slushy, 15 degree Celsius conditions. Slalom is becoming one of alpine racings most spectator-friendly events, with about 12,000 spectators lining the course and filling the bleachers.
Whistler’s Michael Janyk was the top Canadian, just missing his second World Cup podium of the season by one-tenth of a second. Mario Matt and Benjamin Raich of Austria were first and third, while Felix Neureuther of Germany delighted his home crowd by winning the silver.
Although fourth place was a solid result by any standard, Janyk wanted the hardware.
“Both runs were battles,” he said. “The conditions were as good as they could be for 15 degree weather.
“Everyone made mistakes and fought it really hard. I knew there were lots of guys making mistakes so I went all out the whole way down.
“Fourth place is not the easiest. I guess having my sister here maybe she rubbed off some of her fourth places on me.”
Mike’s sister Britt has finished fourth in her last three super G starts, missing podiums by just a few hundredths of a second.
Thomas Grandi was the only other Canadian to qualify for a second run. He finished 14th.
The weekend was not without its controversies, as downhill points leader Didier Cuche vented his frustration with a new FIS rule that starts athletes in the top-30 in the reverse order of their ranking. For courses like Garmisch, which were softened up by the warm weather, that meant top-ranked Cuche had to ski a course rutted by the 29 earlier skiers.
Cuche has yet to win a downhill race this year, and blamed his starting positions for the fact.
A number of skiers also stepped forward to support Cuche. In an interview with Eurosport.com he said the current system penalizes the top athletes.
“We are here to say that we are not really happy about the starting numbers in super G and downhill,” said Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein.
“It’s not good because we are punished when you have good results.”
The Canadian skiers are now just two medals away from Alpine Canada’s goal of 12 World Cup medals on the season, with seven athletes winning 10 medals so far. The team missed the goal of two world championship medals by only a few hundredths of a second, with Britt Janyk and Guay both finishing fourth.