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'The pressure is never off when your goal is to win'

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ACA President Ken Read is pleased with the national team’s progress, but believes more can be done

In a short but intense period of time, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team has evolved from a token presence on the world stage to a legitimate threat in every race.

While there were always a few athletes who could be relied on to perform, this year the Canadian team is fielding serious contenders in almost every event. At the recent alpine world championships in Switzerland, five different athletes helped the Canadian team garner seven top-seven results, including Melanie Turgeon’s gold medal in the downhill and Allison Forsyth’s bronze in the giant slalom.

According to ACA President Ken Read, it was the Canadian Alpine Ski Team’s best overall showing ever in a world championship.

The last time the Canadian alpine team earned two medals, also a gold and a bronze, in a world championship was back in 1982. Before that, Canada’s best showing was a gold and a silver in 1952. But they never posted seven top-seven results before this year.

"We’ve never had this much depth before," said Read, a former member of the team who took over the helm of ACA last summer.

While Turgeon is the only athlete to land on the podium this season, earning a bronze medal in the super G a week before the world championships, skiers on both the men’s and women’s teams have come close on many occasions, and the team is racking up more top-30 and top-10 finishes on the circuit than it has in many years.

"A little confidence and enthusiasm has led to more confidence and enthusiasm. We had very high expectations of this team, and they’ve performed beyond what we hoped for," said Read.

"The skiers are stepping up. When we had Erik (Guay) and Vincent (Lavoie) finished fifth and seventh in the super-G, it really was a shot in the arm for the entire team. There really is team momentum, because they’re feeding off one another’s success. They are really starting to believe in each other and themselves, and they know they are close to a breakthrough out there. They believe they can win."

Read’s influence on the program was felt almost immediately, as new sponsors stepped up to assist the team. The coaches and athletes worked hard this summer with a expanded training program.

"Coming into this season, we wanted to be very clear of what we wanted the objectives to be for the program, and we were aiming pretty high," said Read.

"There’s a fundamental difference to where they are now from where they were a year ago. They have a great deal more confidence in the program, both the coaches and the athletes, and they have worked constructively together to improve our chances out there."

In the fall, Read announced the creation of the Podium 2010 program, a national initiative that would give athletes the financial, technical and human resources they need to succeed, starting with the youngest athletes. Fundraising has improved and Alpine Canada recently picked up CIBC as a new title sponsor.

"We have about $10 million in place, and I would like to see another three to four million to put our program on par with the rest of the world. You always have to be innovating and improving if you want to keep up to the best," Read said.

At the world championships, Read realized just how far the team has come this year after talking to coaches from other countries and watching how the crowd reacts to the Canadians.

"They follow the sport quite closely over there, and the consensus is that we’re going to be one tough team to beat. They’re definitely taking notice," Read said.

The Canadian Alpine Ski Team is one of the youngest on the circuit, with an average age of 22.6 for the men and 21.2 for the women. While many of the skiers are new to the World Cup, they were among the top racers in Europa Cup and Nor Am Cup competitions, and know how to win.

With the season wrapping up next month, Read said the goal is to qualify as many athletes as possible for the World Cup finals – you need to be in the top-25 in a discipline to qualify – and to finish in the top 10 of the Nation’s Cup.

On the first score, the Canadians are looking pretty good with several weeks of competitions left in the regular World Up season.

For the men, Thomas Grandi of Banff is currently ranked 20 th overall in the slalom and 17 th in the giant slalom. The other male athletes have yet to qualify, but many are just one good result away from a spot.

On the women’s team, Melanie Turgeon of Quebec City is currently 13 th in the downhill and 11 th in the super G. Genevieve Simard of Val-Morin, Quebec, is 22 nd in the giant slalom, 18 th in super-G and 13 th in combined. Whistler’s Britt Janyk is 36 th in the slalom, and 19 th in the giant slalom. Nanaimo’s Allison Forsyth is 17 th in the giant slalom. Emily Brydon of Fernie is 43 rd in the downhill and 24 th in the super G.

"We have a strong group right now, and there’s another strong group coming up behind them. The pressure is off as a team in a sense because they know they can compete with each other. But as an athlete or a coach, the pressure is never off when your goal is to win. That’s what we all want, to win."

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