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Whistler athletes on alpine team roster

Bennett retires from ski cross, Helie switches over



This week Alpine Canada released its 29-name national team roster for the 2012-2013 season, with 19 men and 10 women vying for World Cup points and Olympic berths for 2014.

This year both Pridy brothers, Morgan and Conrad, will race with the team, joining Whistler veterans Mike Janyk, Robbie Dixon and Manuel Osborne-Paradis. Last season Conrad Pridy earned his first top 30 on the World Cup circuit, finishing 25th in the downhill at Garmisch, Germany.

Other men on the team include downhill world champion Erik Guay, Philip Brown, Dustin Cook, Julien Cousineau, Jan Hudec, John Kucera, Trevor Philp, Erik Read, Jean-Philippe Roy, Brad Spence, Ben Thomsen, Andy Trow, Trevor White and Sasha Zaitsoff.

The women's team will be led by Erin Mielzynksi, who was the first Canadian woman to win a World Cup slalom in over 40 years this season, as well as World Cup medallist Marie-Michele Gagnon. Whistler's Madison McLeish is on the roster, as is Madison Irwin, Brittany Phelan, Marie-Pier Prefontaine, Eve Routhier, Ellie Terwiel, Kelly VanderBeek and Larisa Yurkiw.

"It's the start of three very important years for us with world championships, the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games and then the 2015 world championships," said Paul Kristofic, the VP of sports for Alpine Canada. "The goal is to come into the season with a healthy team, a full complement of podium-potential racers, and to try to defend our streak of world championship podiums. We're very much looking forward to that challenge."

The national team has seen many of its top athletes sidelined with injuries in recent years, most of whom eased back into competition last season or are coming back this season. Despite the diminished roster, the men's speed team and women's technical team had a strong second half of the season with Jan Hudec and Erik Guay reaching the podium twice, and Ben Thomsen earning the first hardware of his World Cup career. In slalom, Mielzynski and Gagnon both earned their first World Cup medals.

The big news for the national para-alpine ski team is the retirement of Karolina Wisniewska, who has eight Paralympic medals to her credit in a career that spanned 14 years. She missed last season after being injured in a downhill race in February 2011, and knew it was time to step back for good.

"I love ski racing and I always will, but I feel more ready to move on now than I did the first time," she said, referring to her three-year retirement from 2004-2007 after sustaining a head injury.

Wisniewska will stay involved in sport, however, and has secured a position with Sport Canada in Ottawa.

The senior para-alpine team was announced last week and will include sit skiers Josh Dueck, Caleb Brousseau and Kimberley Joines, standing athletes Matt Hallat (Squamish), Braydon Luscombe, Morgan Perrin (Whistler), Kirk Schornstein, Alexandra Starker and Michael Whitney, and visually impaired athletes Chris Williamson and Viviane Forest with guides Robin Femy and Chloe Lauzon-Gauthier.

In ski cross, Canada was the top nation in the world this year despite injuries to three top female athletes — Olympic champion Ashleigh McIvor, World Champion Kelsey Serwa and Julia Murray — and the death of Nik Zoricic in the second-to-last event of the season in Switzerland.

This season the team will be returning without Brian Bennett, who announced that he would be retiring after seven years racing at the World Cup level. However, the team also announced that World Cup speed skier Louis-Pierre Helie, would be joining the team this year after making the switch from alpine.

He will start off with the national prospect group and will have to earn his spot with the national team.

"Everything about it is exciting for me," said Helie of ski cross. "It seems like everyone's excited to have me on board. I can't wait."

While the days of athletes transitioning from alpine to ski cross and succeeding right away are over — most athletes take years to become competitive — Helie's background includes all four alpine disciplines and he is comfortable racing both speed and technical events.

"Given his history as a World Cup skier with a strong technical background, we think he has the tools needed to adapt quickly to ski cross and hopefully to compete at a high level," said Dave Ellis, director of sport for ski cross.

The national ski cross team has not been announced at this point.