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Winterstart gets the go-ahead

FIS approves Lake Louise courses for World Cup



Events in Europe may be in jeopardy because of the lack of snow, but Lake Louise got off to an early start this year and this week the Lake Louise Winterstart speed events got the thumbs up from FIS.

The men's downhill and super G season will open on Nov. 26 and 27, following three days of training runs. The following weekend the resort will host the women's opening speed events, with two downhill races and a super G event from Dec. 2 to 4.

"We are extremely delighted," said John Cassels, head of the Race Organizing Committee. "There's very little snow in Europe but we are ahead of where we've been at this time for the past two or three years.

"Things are setting up nicely for us. The racetrack is 75 to 80 per cent built. We've had 50 volunteers together with our net crew working on the hill since Saturday. They will continue through to Friday when another 150 volunteers will help us put the finishing touches on the track. We are pretty excited and looking forward to some great races."

Some of Whistler's own Weasel Workers are part of the volunteer crew helping to prepare Lake Louise.

The Canadian men have had good luck at home over the years, including wins by John Kucera, who is returning to the team after almost two years, Jan Hudec and Manuel Osborne-Paradis. The women's team also has medals to its credit, although all eyes will be on American skier Lindsey Vonn, who has eight wins on the course in the last seven years. Last season was the first since 2005 that she didn't win the downhill race, placing second in both races to Germany's Maria Riesch.

Whistler athletes will look to factor in both the men's and women's events, with Robbie Dixon and newcomer Morgan Pridy in the mix on the guy's side and Madison McLeish joining the women's team this year.

This week Jan Hudec announced he would be racing next week, after some concern was raised regarding his back and whether he would retire.

The 30-year-old said he's healthy and ready to race a course he won a gold medal on in 2007. "I've been getting the retirement question for about three years, mainly from people who don't know me personally and don't know my character," he said. "They just see an older guy who has had injuries and assume I want to quit. That's not how I work.

"I'm still passionate about the sport and at the same time I feel like there are things I still haven't accomplished. If I didn't believe I could still do it I would retire. But I'm 30 years old and (Swiss skier Didier) Cuche is 37. Even if I ski another five years that's a lot of time left to accomplish my goals."

Hudec has had a variety of injury issues, and sat out of a few events last season with a herniated disc. He took some time this summer and skipped out of a few camps to address the injury and said he's feeling better.

"It worked out good for me," he said of his summer strategy. "Along with resting my back I also rested my knees and they are probably doing the best they ever have. I've also had time to take a mental break from training and spend time with my son Oakless, who is five.

"I feel ready to ski instead of feeling tired from too much skiing. I'm skiing fast - my times have been really good in training. I know I'm on the right track."