Sports » Features

Read optimistic about Canadian prospects

No world championship medals, but still chances to shine



Ken Read, the president of Alpine Canada Alpin, had lofty goals for the Canadian Alpine Ski Team at the world championships – two medals, matching the team’s two medals at the 2003 worlds. Melanie Turgeon won the women’s downhill two years ago in Switzerland and Allison Forsyth was third in the giant slalom.

Needless to say the Canadian skiers didn’t bring home any medals from Bormio, Italy, where the 2005 FIS Alpine World Championships wrapped up Sunday, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

"I never felt the goal of two medals was overly ambitious because I thought it was something we could accomplish," said Read. "But I knew at the same time that the athletes were going to have to stretch to make it happen, and I think we can walk away knowing it was possible."

Turgeon did not defend her title this year, opting to stay in Canada and train after missing last season with a back injury. Forsyth is making a comeback, but spent most of last year battling painful tendinitis in her hips.

Canmore’s Thomas Grandi was Canada’s top medal prospect, and finished fifth and sixth respectively in the giant slalom and slalom. "It was encouraging to see that, as good as he did and to come away with results that put him in historic territory for Canada, to come out and say ‘hey, these were good results but I still was aiming for a medal," said Read.

Although the number of obvious mistakes technical skiers made was high, Read says in every case the mistake was the result of an athlete skiing aggressively.

"The attitude of the team is exceptional," he said. "The most you can ask of any athlete is to go out and try to win, and if they make a mistake and go off (course) it’s because they were trying to win. And it wasn’t reckless, it was very genuine on the part of the athletes, and the results bear that out."

Mistakes aside, Read says Canada also showed its depth with established athletes rising close to their potential in some events, and rookies making a splash in others.

"Overall we have a young team and we know it’s a constant challenge, wanting to see results, but at the same time we have to be patient," he said. "For us part of the problem is that we’re so thin in leadership right now. Look at the men’s downhill team – our most experienced athlete is Vinny (Vincent) Lavoie, he’s been out since the first race of the year, and he only has two years of World Cup experience.

"We have some pretty green athletes so every run is important, and that’s the attitude you have to have."

The team still has a long season ahead of them. There are important World Cup events in Italy and Sweden, and Grandi is still in the running to win the overall giant slalom title. The World Cup finals are also on the horizon.

Some of the younger members of the team, along with members of the development team and provincial teams, will be heading to the FIS Alpine World Junior Championships, which get underway this week at Bardonecchia, Italy. According to Read, the junior championships help to identify the team’s top prospects, which in turn helps to push the veterans.

"It’s the same in any sport that has depth, the rookies push the veterans. They have a steeper learning curve, but it’s important in any program to build depth," he said.

The Olympics are also on everyone’s mind as team members work for quota spots.

"We really have three priorities. The number one priority is the major event results, number two is the world junior results, and number three is our quota size because that’s the gate to open to get more athletes onto the World Cup," said Read. "We’ve made some pretty good progress in quotas, but that’s an ongoing thing.

"And of course the Olympics are in the background. There’s so much going on and in a sense every race is a world championships and the athletes are focussed on the here and now, but we have an eye down the road on quota positions, and building towards that event. We don’t focus on it until we’re there, but we know it’s there."