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Whistler skiers strong in Pontiac Cup

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More than 100 skiers from Canada and the U.S. took part in the Pontiac GMC Cup racing series at Apex Resort last week, a five-day contest featuring both downhill and super-G disciplines.

The B.C. Ski Team dominated, with Whistler skiers turning in some of the strongest performances.

On Feb. 3, Daniel McEachren of Edmonton upset a few veterans to win the men’s downhill, less than half a second ahead of Whistler’s James Finlayson, whose finish was more of a comeback story than an upset.

Using a pair of borrowed skis, Finlayson came out of retirement to take a silver and gold in the downhill contest. He was a three-year veteran of the national junior team and a top prospect when we was forced to retire after being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, or arthritis of the spine.

He has since gotten the pain under control and started coaching at the K1 level with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club while taking Human Kinetics courses at Langara College.

Dana Williams of Truro, Nova Scotia, and Whistler, finished third.

In the women’s downhill, Alberta proved that oil is just one of their precious resources with Yota Lambropolous of Banff taking the top spot. Whistler’s Julia Vagelatos finished second, continuing a medal-winning streak that started at the Alberta Cup two weeks earlier with a gold and silver in the slalom. Stephanie McDougall, another Whistler skier finished third.

The following day, Finlayson earned his gold medal, followed by Aaron Civitarese of Trail, and McEachren.

"I cleaned up some of the turns and was more balanced on the course," said Finlayson. "I really wanted to come back and win."

The women’s race saw Lambropoulos finish first and Vagelatos second once again, followed by Ashley Davis of Calgary.

In the super-G, Vagelatos finally pulled ahead of the Albertan, finishing first by a narrow seven one-hundredths of a second on Feb. 5 and by better than a second on Feb. 6.

"I didn’t change my strategy too much," said Vagelatos, who prefers technical events to the downhill. "The course felt a lot easier than yesterday with the better conditions. I’m pretty surprised with the success I had here."

Kim Topwich of Edmonton was third in the first super-G, and Whistler’s Stephanie McDougall found her way back onto the podium with another bronze medal in the second super G.

The Pontiac GMC Cup series continues this weekend at Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec, with two more downhill and super-G events.

More than $50,000 in prize money is available on the tour, which will culminate with the championships at Mont Sainte-Anne and Mont Orford, which will feature slalom, giant slalom, dual slalom, downhill and super-G events.

The Pontiac GMC Cup, which was the brainchild of twice World Cup overall champion and Olympic gold medalist Nancy Greene Raine, has helped to produce many of Canada’s ski legends, including Laurie Graham, Ken Read, Steve Podborski, Todd Brooker, Lisa Savijarvi and Gerry Sorenson.

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