The Canadian Alpine Ski Team didn't win any medals at home this weekend as Lake Louise hosted its annual Winterstart speed events, but it was close — a tenth of a second close.
The team struggled a little in the downhill on Saturday but found its stride in the super G on Sunday with two racers in the top six. Jan Hudec placed fourth in that race, one-tenth of a second back of the bronze medal position, while Erik Guay placed sixth, just eight one-hundredths back of Hudec in a close race all around.
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was the top skier in 1:23.47, followed by Swiss veteran Didier Cuche in 1:23.70 and Adrien Theaux of France in 1:24.11.
"It was an awesome day for Canadians," said Hudec. "Before I went up for my run I was watching Erik with his dad on one of the TVs inside and he came down a second ahead. When you see something like that from a guy who struggled yesterday and came back the next day and just owned it like that, it boosts the morale of the whole team."
Hudec sat in the hot seat for a while, until he was bumped off the podium.
"As soon as I came through the finish and heard people screaming, I knew it was a good run. I put everything on the line, skied smart where I had to and just made that one mistake on the bottom — but that's a calculated risk."
Guay said the biggest difference for him on Sunday was start position.
"Honestly, I didn't feel that much different than yesterday," he said. "I can say that I was pretty lucky with the start number. Starting earlier is a big advantage in soft conditions like that."
Invermere's Ben Thomsen, a rookie with the speed team last year, came away with his second top 30 result of the weekend in 27th — something that will boost his start number in future races. Louis-Pierre Helie, in his first weekend back after losing a year to a knee injury, placed 53rd, while Whistler's Robbie Dixon — coming back from a concussion — had tough, snowy conditions as the first skier through the gate and skied off the course.
Canada's medal hopes were high in the downhill on Saturday after athletes were fast in training.
"I'm proud to be the top Canadian (in 12th)," said Dixon. "Obviously I wanted to be a little closer to the podium, but... I'm happy with my performance.
"Considering the conditions were tough, starting second was awesome because the course was pretty smooth. It's always a little tough when you have lots of fresh snow — you can't really pin the straight line that you want because the track isn't there yet. But all things considered, I had one of the best runs of my life."
Dixon was just happy to be back in the points with his own 25th place result.
"It was a good start," he said. "I definitely wanted to get in the points — that was a big thing for me this weekend."
Thomsen finished just outside the top 30 in 34th, while Erik Guay had a tough day and placed 44th. Helie was 46th, Kelby Halbert 52nd, and teammates Ryan Semple and Whistler's Conrad Pridy were tied for 59th.
Although the weekend might have been discouraging, no doubt it was inspirational as well. Didier Defago is one of the oldest active skiers on the World Cup tour at 37 years old, and he came away from the weekend with a gold medal in downhill and a silver in super G. By comparison, Hudec and Guay are the most senior member of the men's team at 30 years old, and neither skier is looking to retire.
Cuche's time in the downhill was 1:47.28, followed by teammate Beat Fuez in 1:47.34. Austria's Hannes Reichelt was third in 1:47.36.
The men's next races are at Beaver Creek, Colorado this weekend with a downhill, giant slalom and super G on the calendar.
Technical team cracks top 30 at Aspen
The Canadian women's technical team has been going through a rebuilding process in recent years with the loss of several top athletes to injuries and retirement, and if the recent races at Aspen, Colorado are indication the work is going well.
In the slalom on Sunday, both Canadian skiers finished in the top 20 with Marie-Michele Gagnon in 11th and Anna Goodman placing 20th.
Goodman and Gagnon were eighth and 10th respectively after the first run. Goodman made an error on the bottom part of her second run to slip back 12 positions, but is still happy with her day.
"On my first run I skied really well," she said. "The first half of my second run was really good — I just didn't ski well on the bottom part. I know that I'm skiing well — especially coming back from two big injuries."
Gagnon was also satisfied. "The first run I really went all out, I attacked. I didn't get into the rhythm right away but then at the bottom I totally crushed it. On the second run it was pretty good skiing, but it was missing some 'oomph.' It's a really good start for me. It was not my best skiing and I was still 11th."
Erin Mielzynski almost earned points, but placed 31st after the first run — just four one-hundredths of a second back of getting a second run. Eve Routhier and Elli Terwiel did not finish their first runs.
The top three skiers in the race were Marlies Schild of Austria by over a second in 1:43.72, followed Maria Pietilae-Holmner of Sweden in 1:44.91and Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany in 1:45.68.
In the giant slalom the previous day the only Canadian in the top 30 was Marie-Pier Prefontaine in 24th. Madison Irwin and Marie-Michele Gagnon also raced, with Irwin failing to qualify and Gagnon going off course.
Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany was first in 2:11.25, followed by Elisabeth Goergl of Austria and American skier Julia Mancuso.
The next women's World Cup races are the speed events taking place this week at Lake Louise, with a pair of downhill races and a super G on the calendar.