Whistler's Mike Janyk went from Canadian Cowboy to comeback kid this past weekend at the FIS Alpine World Championship slalom in Val d'Isere, France.
Janyk missed all of last season with an injured back, and has steadily been working his way back to the front of the pack. Since the start of the season he has finished both runs in seven World Cup races, and placed in the top-10 in all but two of them. Before the world championships his best result was eighth at Wengen, Switzerland.
The consistency continued at Val d'Isere, with Janyk ranking a solid ninth after the first run of Sunday's slalom. He followed up with the third-fastest second run to claim the bronze medal behind Manfred Pranger of Austria and Julien Lizeroux of France.
It was the best result ever for a Canadian male in a world championship technical event, and Canada's second medal at the 2009 world championships after John Kucera won gold in the men's downhill.
Pique caught up to Mike Janyk in Kirchberg, Austria Monday, where the Canadian and U.S. teams have been based this winter.
"The town threw us (John Kucera and U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn) a huge party night, with a sleigh ride into the main square," said Janyk. "Then they brought us up on stage and we were given some cool gifts. Right now I'm wearing these Tyrolean Lederhosen that were given to us at a dinner thrown by the hotel where the team is staying. It's incredible."
Janyk started the season ranked 56th in the world after missing most of the previous year. He started 19th at the World Championships. The goal was to ski consistently and move up into the top-15, where he would get better snow and a better chance to reach the podium.
"I honestly felt coming in that I was skiing better than ever before in training, and knew I could podium," he said. "I knew I was at that level... but I was also happy to be 10th in races and consistent. At the world championships I knew I was training fast. I focused on my skiing and not the result and it worked out."
Next to the Olympics, the World Championships put the most pressure on athletes to succeed. But Janyk says most of the pressure comes from himself.
"I put enough pressure on myself, I don't need pressure from anyone else," he said. "I know it's going to be coming a year from now (at the Olympics), and I showed myself that I can perform at a one day event when medals are the only thing that matters."
There are two World Cup slaloms remaining, and Janyk's goal is to reach the podium at both of them.
"I know I have a good shot at making the podium, in a way the pressure is off," he said. "I'm solidified in the top-15 to finish the year, which was a huge goal for me coming in this season. I really shed a lot of the stress from the start of the year, which allows me to ski freely and do what I need to do to get back on the podium."
Janyk says his back is not completely healed - he pulled a muscle in January - but the important thing is that he has been able to ski without pain or distraction.
"I have to be careful of it and conscious of it at all times and not get complacent, and make sure I go to massage and physio," he said. "It's a big thing when you're not feeling any pain and can ski freely and fluidly."
Janyk was the only Canadian to complete two runs. Thomas Grandi was 15th after the first run, but skied off course in his second run.
Anna Goodman was the top racer in the women's slalom, placing a career-best 12th. Maria Riesch of Germany placed first, followed by Sarka Zahrobska of Czech Republic and Tanja Poutiainen of Finland.
The giant slalom was a tough event for the Canadian team, but Whistler's Robbie Dixon managed to finish two runs and place 21st. Carlo Janka of Switzerland placed first, followed by Benjamin Raich of Austria and Ted Ligety of the U.S.
Whistler's Britt Janyk was the top racer in the women's GS, placing 26th. Kathrin Hoelzl of Germany was first, followed by Tina Maze of Slovenia and Tanja Poutiainen of Finland.
One medal, one cancelled event at snowboard test event
A series of World Cup test events at Cypress mountain ended on a sour note on Sunday as organizers made the decision to cancel the parallel giant slalom races because of snow conditions on an otherwise clear and sunny day.
The alpine racers were using the same hill as the snowboard cross athletes, but organizers decided that there wasn't enough time to mow down the jumps on the course and properly groom and set a course for the parallel giant slalom race given the dry, chalky consistency of the snow.
Olympic organizers said this would not happen during the Games, when there will be three days between events instead of one day, and more leeway to reschedule events in poor weather. But the decision to cancel the event still drew criticism from World Cup teams looking for an opportunity to race the 2010 course.
With two Canadians - Jasey Jay Anderson and Matthew Morison - vying for the overall PGS title this year and the women's team posting its best ever results, it was a loss for the Canadian program as well.
"We feel bad. And we learned a valuable lesson here," said Tim Gayda, vice president of sports for VANOC, in an interview with the Globe and Mail.
It was an anticlimax for the event, coming on the heels of a sold out snowboard halfpipe event where reigning Olympic champion Shaun White earned a gold medal, and World Cup leader Ryoh Aono of Japan took the silver medal ahead of Louri Podlatdtchikov of Switzerland. Three Canadians also cracked the top-eight, qualifying three riders for the finals - more than any other country. Justin Lamoureux led the way in fifth place, with Brad Martin seventh and Jeff Batchelor eighth.
"(The halfpipe program) is doing pretty good as we were the only country with three guys starting in the finals today," said Lamoureux. "After the worlds and all the contests we have been to this year everyone is stepping up within Canada, and everybody outside Canada is now watching our guys."
From Whistler, Ryan Rausch was 21st, Neil Connolly 22nd, Crispin Lipscomb 29th to round out the top-30. There were 72 starters.
Own The Podium 2010 doesn't currently provide any funding for halfpipe athletes, based on results from past seasons and what they perceive as the team's chances in 2010. Many of the athletes are relying on their sponsors to help pay their way this year.
"We're very happy with the event," said halfpipe coach Tom Hutchinson. "This was a field of champions and we could have been 3-4-5 today... If this exact contest would have been last year, we would have been 10-11-12. We are closing the gap and next year the gap will be closed."
On the women's side, no Canadian women made the finals, although Sarah Conrad came close, finishing in 13th place. Whistler's Mercedes Nicoll was 20th, and Dominique Vallee 25th.
Kelly Clark of the U.S. won gold, followed by Liu Jiayu of China and Hannah Teter of the U.S.
In the snowboard cross earlier that day, 11 Canadians qualified for the finals but only one stood on the podium. Mike Robertson won the silver medal after being involved in a crash in the semi finals that took out all four racers. He got back on his feet to advance to the finals, where he placed second between Markus Schairer of Austria and Seth Wescott of the U.S. Teammate Francois Boivin was fourth, Drew Neilson was seventh and Robert Fagan ninth.
"Winning the silver medal today was awesome, I really can't complain," said Robertson. "The course was good and really fast, which made for a wild race.
"It would have been nice to see Frankie (Francois Boivin) take the podium with me, but unfortunately he had a crash."
On the women's side, Whistler's Maëlle Ricker continued her string of fourth place finishes to retain her fourth place ranking on the World Cup tour.
"My goal is to win every time I ride, and I'm looking forward to reaching that goal in Stoneham next week," she said.
The win went to Lindsey Jacobellis of the U.S., followed by Olivia Nobs of Switzerland and Helene Olafsen of Norway.
Dominique Maltais was eliminated in the quarterfinal, and placed ninth.
Mogul team sweeps again as freestyle domination continues
Proving that an earlier podium sweep in Quebec was no fluke, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team did it again last weekend at the World Cup event in Are, Sweden.
Alex Bilodeau took the win, Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau picked up the silver medal, and Vincent Marquis edged out Dimitriy Reiherd of Kazakhstan for the bronze.
"Maybe it felt a little like mission impossible, but we've done it again and it's probably as exciting as the first time," said Marquis, who led the first sweep at Mt. Gabriel in January.
Bilodeau, who is oozing confidence with a gold medal and three silver medals to his credit this season, continued to focus on his skiing.
"My skiing was great today, my skiing was solid," he said. "I haven't seen the video yet but I'm pleased with my consistency. I'm just super happy to be on the podium with my teammates. We've done it again."
On the women's side Jennifer Heil picked up the silver medal between Margarita Marbler of Austria and Aiko Uemura of Japan. It was Heil's fifth medal of the season.
She hoped for a win, but the silver medal put her within 86 points of Hannah Kearney of the U.S. for the overall title.
"I'm very happy with my own consistency, but I'm definitely not where I want to be."
Two other Canadians cracked the top-10 with Chloe Dufour-Lapointe in ninth place and Audrey Robichaud 10th. Pemberton's Kristi Richards was 13th.
In the dual mogul competition Alexandre Bilodeau picked up his third gold in three starts, edging out Guibaut Colas of France in the final. Maxime Gingras of Canada, a rookie on the World Cup circuit, edged out Sho Kashima of the U.S. for the bronze medal, giving the Canadian men five of the six medals awarded on the weekend. Vincent Marquis was ninth and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau 12th.
Hannah Kearney of the U.S. won the women's dual over Aiko Uemura of Japan, while Margarita Marbler of Austria edged out Kristi Richards for the bronze medal. Chloe Dufour-Lapointe was fifth, Jennifer Heil ninth and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe 11th.
While the mogul team was winning six medals in Sweden, the aerials team was in Russia for a night aerials event in Moscow.
There were no podiums for Canada, but Steve Omischl clinched his third crystal globe, signifying the overall title, with a fifth place performance. Ryan St. Onge of the U.S. took the gold, followed by Dmitri Dashinski of Belarus and Stanislav Kravchuk of the Ukraine. Ryan Blais was ninth.
Veronika Bauer was again the top Canadian on the women's side, placing 12th. Xu Mengtao of China took the win, followed by Shuang Cheng of China and Lydia Lassila of Australia.
Renner closes in on podium with fifth place finish
After taking a year off to start a family, Canmore's Sara Renner has improved almost from week to week and came close to a bronze medal last weekend with a fifth place finish in the 10 km individual start classic race at Valdidentro, Italy. She was just 11 seconds back of the Petra Majdic of Slovenia, who took the bronze behind Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland and Mariann Longa of Italy.
On the men's side Ivan Babikov was 12th in the 15 km race.
Myslicki close to top-30
Canadians aren't known for being competitive in the sport of Nordic Combined, but that could change if Jason Myslicki - who recently moved to Sea to Sky - continues to improve. In the World Cup at Klingenthal, Germany Myslicki was in 51st place after the opening ski jump, but he managed to move up 18 positions in the cross-country ski portion to place 33rd, close to the top-30, where World Cup points are awarded. He posted the 19th-fastest time on the 10 km ski course.
"I started the race knowing that there was some opportunity for strategy on such a challenging course and really wanted to push myself now that I am feeling healthier," he said. "My goal was to stay relaxed and keep my skiing smooth. Pretty quick I realized that I was feeling stronger than the athletes around me and slowly began pursuing athletes ahead of me."
Canada is guaranteed one spot in the Nordic Combined as the host nation for the 2010 Games, and at this point it looks like Myslicki will get the spot.
Humphries back on podium in women's bobsleigh
Proving that their silver-medal performance in Whistler was no fluke, driver Kaillie Humphries and teammate Shelley-Ann Brown picked up another silver medal in bobsleigh competing at the 2002 Olympic track at Park City, Utah. They were just 0.18 seconds back of gold after two runs, finishing between the Germany 2 and Germany 1 teams.