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Winterstart World Cup races next weekend

Whistler’s Robbie Dixon among racers expected to compete

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There have already been two World Cup events in Europe, but for many top ski racers the season doesn’t being until the Bombardier Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup races. The men will race two events, a downhill and super G, on Nov. 29-30, while the women will race two downhills and one super G Dec. 5-7.

For the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, Winterstart has raised the bar in terms of breakthrough performances. In 2006, John Kucera won the super G on the men’s side, while Whistler Mountain Ski Club alumnus Manuel Osborne-Paradis won silver in the men’s downhill. Kelly Vanderbeek also placed third in the women’s super-G, and Canada went on to have its most successful season ever with 14 World Cup medals and 45 top-10 finishes.

In 2007, Jan Hudec won gold in the men’s downhill, and Whistler’s Britt Janyk was third in the women’s downhill — the first podium of her career.

Heading into 2008, expectations are high for a team that’s no longer content to break the top-30, or even the top-10.

“Two year ago was huge with lots of podiums and lots of points, but although we didn’t get as many podiums last year we were further ahead in World Cup points than ever before,” said Paul Kristofic, head coach of the men’s program. “It was also our goal to increase our consistency at every venue last year and we pretty much did that. This group, average-wise is still young on the World Cup, and it really helps to be consistent at all the venues and across all the disciplines. But more than consistency, I think the team is really hungry for podiums. Top-10 is nice but they’d like to hit the steps.”

Three Canadian athletes are pre-qualified to race at Lake Louise, Osborne-Paradis, Erik Guay and Kucera. The team will also do its own internal qualifications during the training runs for the World Cup events, which will include athletes like Whistler’s Robbie Dixon, Gareth Sine and Jeffrey Frisch.

Although it’s an Olympic qualifier year, Kristofic says the team is focusing more on February’s World Championships.

“If we just continue on the same path we’re currently on we’ll see a lot of our guys qualify early this year, so that is not a huge target for us,” he said. “We take it one race at a time, and do everything we can to win at every race. Obviously a big target is the World Championships, which is taking place at the same time as the Olympics in 2010. We’re going to see if we can get the timing down right, and have athletes peaking and putting in their strongest performances then.”

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