Canada's fourth alpine World Cup medal of the season came from an unlikely source, with Invermere's Ben Thomsen making the most of his start position to place second overall at the World Cup downhill in Sochi, Russia — the newly completed venue for the 2014 Winter Games.
It was Thomsen's first podium in two years with the team, and came just one week after he posted a career-best fifth place finish — and two weeks after a previous career-best finish of 11th.
Thomsen started 50th in France when he posted the top-five result and jumped up in the standings enough to land a starting spot in the top 30. Starting in 27th on the icy, bumpy track at Sochi, Thomsen took a few chances and it paid off.
"It was really icy at the top," he said. "Some of the iciest conditions I've seen. You could grab your hockey skates and go right down with the puck.
"In the start gate I got nervous for once. I knew I had some fast training runs and I knew I had to go for it all the way down. I knew it wasn't going to be pretty. At the top I was on my hip and slipping inside all over the place. When I got down onto the flats I told myself to put my head down and go for it."
Beat Fuez of Switzerland, also having his best season, took the win, while Adrien Theaux of France took the bronze medal.
The other Canadians had an off day, but still managed to finish solidly in the top 30 with Erik Guay in 20th and Jan Hudec in 24th.
The men's speed team now has four medals this season. Guay has a silver at Garmisch-Partkenkirchen, Germany and a bronze at Chamonix, France; Hudec has a gold at Chamonix.
None of the Canadians raced in the super combined event. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia proved once again that he's one of the best all-around skiers in the sport by winning with close to a second margin of Beat Fuez of Swtizerland. Thomas Mermillod Blondin of France was third.
The women's team has yet to reach any podiums this season, but the news is good as well with Marie-Michele Gagnon finishing in the top eight twice in Andorra.
The opening GS was cut short due to weather, with Gagnon and teammate Marie-Pier Prefontaine in 25th and 26th respectively.
In the slalom next day, Gagnon placed eighth — her best result in the discipline this season. She gave some of the credit to Thomsen's performance.
"I watched Ben and I was totally pumped up," she said. "I was like, 'I've got to do something.' His performance was pretty inspiring."
Erin Mielzynski also had a good day, finishing 18th — her fourth top 20 result this season.
Marlies Schild of Austria took the win, followed by Frida Hansdotter of Sweden and Austria's Kathrin Zettel.
The next day, in the second giant slalom, Gagnon moved up to seventh place. With a seventh place the previous weekend in the super combined, Gagnon earned three top 10 finishes in three events.
"I'm totally happy," she said. "Two top 10s in a weekend — I always dreamed of that," she said. "I was skiing so well at the top. I wanted to come down first because I haven't really done that this season, but I made a mistake in the bottom pitch."
Tessa Worley of France took the gold medal, followed by Tina Maze of Slovenia and Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany. Marie-Pier Prefontaine was 21st for Canada.
For the record
In last week's story about the men's alpine teaming finishing with three athletes in the top five the writer indicated that it was a record finish for the team. In fact, it was the first time that Canada had placed three men in the top five of a speed event in 18 years.