The 2013-2014 season is a big one for the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, which is arguably coming off its worse season in recent history with just three medals — and none of those at the crucial FIS World Ski Championships.
The main focus next season will be the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and the opportunity for the alpine team to win Canada's first Olympic medal since Ed Podivinsky took bronze in the downhill at Alberville in 1994. However, World Cup medals and proving future medal potential will also be important as national Own the Podium funding is largely based on a program's chances for bringing home Olympic hardware.
Last season the alpine team received $2,789,000 from Own the Podium, making it the second-largest recipient of funding next to speed skating. Funding will likely be reduced this coming season.
On Thursday, May 16, Alpine Canada announced a group of 17 men and just six women who will be representing Canada on the World Cup circuit and hopefully the Olympics. Six of the athletes have won World Cup or World Championships medals, and five got their start in Whistler with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
The core of the team is Erik Guay, the 2011 world downhill champion. He accounted for two of three medal for the alpine team last season and with 19 medals he's just one away from tying Steve Podborski's Canadian record. He's 32 years old, and while a lot of racers can compete through their late 30s, it could be his last chance to medal at an Olympics.
"If I was writing my own script I would say yes, I want to win in Sochi, but I know what it takes to win on any given day," said Guay.
"It's one thing to be competitive throughout a season; it's another to be competitive in one race where anybody in the top 15 could win. One mistake and I could be in fifth place. Another mistake and I could be 12th place. There's nothing cut and dried in our sport — far from it."
The men's speed team includes four Whistler athletes — Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Robbie Dixon and brothers Conrad and Morgan Pridy. Other speed hopefuls include Jan Hudec, Ben Thomsen, Jeffrey Frisch, Sasha Zaitsoff and John Kucera — the 2009 world downhill champion, who lost three seasons with leg injuries. The men's technical team includes Whistler's Mike Janyk plus Julien Cousineau, Dustin Cook, Phil Brown, Erik Read, Trevor Philp and Brad Spence.
The women's team has two medallists in slalom; Erin Mielzynksi, who won a bronze medal this season and a gold at the end of the previous season, and Marie-Michele Gagnon, Canada's best all-around most consistent skier the past few seasons.
They will be joined by a strong core of technical skiers — Brittany Phelan, Marie-Pier Prefontaine and Elli Terwiel and Madison Irwin. Larisa Yurkiw was dropped from the national team, but has said she will pay her own way this season with the goal of making the Olympics.
She was a strong prospect for Canada a few years ago but missed almost three seasons with a knee injury.
Canada's speed team has been decimated by injuries and retirements, and Canada only has one World Cup spot in women's downhill. Marie-Michele Gagnon will represent Canada in that discipline when it doesn't conflict with technical races.