In just four days last week Canadian Olympic hopefuls earned 28 medals, including five medals in ski cross at Cypress with a men's podium sweep, as well as two gold medals in moguls and aerials. John Kucera ended Canada's medal drought in alpine skiing with a gold medal in the world championship downhill, and various other medals in bobsleigh, skeleton, figure skating and speed skating.
Kucera saves the day for alpine ski team
With just four medals so far this season, and no hardware since early January, the Canadian Alpine Ski Team likely will not make its goal of 14 podiums this season, or even match last year's tally of 12 medals. The women's team, responsible for nine medals last season, has also been shut out so far although athletes have been consistently in the top-15.
The team needed a little good news at the FIS World Championships in Val d'Isere, France this past week, and Calgary's John Kucera came through with the best performance of his career in the downhill.
Kucera was second out of the start hut Saturday, and sat in the hot seat for more than 80 agonizing minutes as 38 more racers came down the course. None could touch his time of two minutes 7.01 seconds, with Didier Cuche of Switzerland coming closes in 2:07.05, and Carlo Janka of Switzerland third in 2:06.18.
"It's been a long road but it's a dream come true," said Kucera, 24. "This is not only a world championship medal but it's my first medal in the downhill."
It was also the first world championships gold medal won by a Canadian male in alpine skiing. Kucera, who specializes in the super G, said the course was rough and technical which favoured his style of skiing.
Kucera's glow didn't extend to any of his teammates. Jan Hudec posted the fastest speed - 132.02 km/h - but went off course after he lost an edge and injured his left knee. He missed most of last season with an injured right knee, and only returned to competition in November.
Erik Guay also crashed near the bottom, but was not injured.
"I risked it and was pushing hard. When you do that there is a chance that you make a mistake," said Guay. "I feel like today the best skier won the downhill, and that was John Kucera."
Manuel Osborne-Paradis also did not finish his run.
There is still a chance for Canada to meet its goal of two medals at the World Championships when the technical events, giant slalom and slalom, take place from Feb. 12 to Feb. 15.
In the opening super G, Emily Brydon was the top Canadian in 13th place, while Whistler's Britt Janyk was 17th, and Kelly VanderBeek 23rd.
Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. won her first of two gold medals, followed by Marie Marchand-Arvier of France and Andrea Fischbacher of Austria.
John Kucera was also the top Canadian in the men's super G, placing sixth. Erik Guay and Whistler's Robbie Dixon were 19th and 20th.
The win went to Didier Cuche of Switzerland, followed by Peter Fill of Italy and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.
The women's team had both downhill training runs cancelled because of the weather and conditions, a familiar story for the team this season. Emily Brydon placed 11th, with Kelly VanderBeek 21st. Whistler's Britt Janyk went off course.
Lindsey Vonn won the downhill by more than half a second, with Lara Gut of Switzerland picking up the silver medal and Nadia Fanchini of Italy in third.
Emily Brydon did not finish her first run in the women's super combined. Kathrin Zettel of Austria took the win, followed by Lara Gut of Switzerland and Austria's Elisabeth Goergl.
No Canadian men finished the men's super combined. The win went to Julien Lizeroux of France, followed by Peter Fill of Italy and Sandro Viletta of Switzerland.
Freestylers win eight medals at home
Canadian freestylers took home field advantage to another level this past weekend at Cypress Mountain, with eight medals - including five gold medals - in a series of World Cup test events for the 2010 Winter Games.
The ski cross team contributed most of the hardware with the Canadian men sweeping the podium and women taking two of three medals up for grabs. Canada also earned three gold medals in the traditional freestyle events, with two gold medals in moguls and one in aerials.
First up was ski cross, which was only added to the Olympic schedule last season.
Chris DelBosco picked up the win on the men's side, edging out teammates Stan Hayer and Whistler's Davey Barr for top spot on the podium.
Interestingly it was the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team's second podium sweep of the season, coming just two weeks after the men's mogul team swept the podium in Quebec.
"It's incredible to get my first win here at the Olympic venue," said DelBosco, picking up his first gold medal at a FIS ski cross event. "I messed up at the start and the three of us Canadians just battled it out until the finish. I made a good pass on Stan on the second to last jump. Today was my day."
Aleisha Cline of Squamish completed her comeback to the World Cup circuit with a win on the women's side - her first after spending four seasons on the sidelines to start a family. The four-time X Games champion has two children under the age of three.
"The opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal on this hill is what prompted my decision to come back and compete again," said Cline. "I figured I better give it a shot. When I was racing full time before, I was on top of the game."
Whistler's Ashleigh McIvor added a silver medal to her collection, which includes a gold medal from a World Cup race earlier in the season. Julia Murray, also of Whistler, was bumped out of the finals in the semis, but won the small final to place fifth. Kelsey Serwa was ninths and Danielle Poleschuk 12th.
In aerials that evening it was Steve Omischl who ruled the day after tying Anton Kushnir of Belarus in the regular two-jump competition. Omischl was given the edge because his jumps had a higher degree of difficulty. Stanislav Kravchuk of the Ukraine was third.
Despite a slow start to the season Omischl currently leads the overall aerials standings with 337 points after five events. Jeret Peterson of the U.S. is a distant second with 242.
"It was special to win here for sure, but I approached this competition like any other World Cup," said Omischl. "We're here to do a job and execute a plan that we rehearsed over and over. But this was an important venue and I'm quite proud to have achieved by goal."
Ryan Blais placed fourth for Canada and Olivier Rochon was ninth.
On the women's side Evelyn Leu of Switzerland took the gold medal ahead of four Chinese skiers. Shuangfei Dai was second and Shuang Cheng third.
Veronika Bauer was the top Canadian in 11th place.
The last event was moguls, and Canadians were on top of their game once again. On the men's side, Alexandre Bilodeau earned the gold medal - his first gold since 2006 - with a strong performance.
"I didn't think I was cursed but it feels really good to get back in the winner's circle," said Bilodeau. "It's good for the confidence. I kept it simple and it's a real thrill to win on the Olympic course."
Yugo Tsukita of Japan was second, and Guibaut Colas of France - the current World Cup leader - was third. Vincent Marquis was 13th for Canada.
On the women's side Jennifer Heil earned the gold medal with her best performance after missing last season with an injury. "The course, the weather and the crowd made it all perfect," said Heil. "The highlight for me was the quality of my skiing. I was more aggressive and I felt my technique becoming automatic. I could feel the smoothness and ease in my skiing."
Chloe Dufour-Lapointe was seventh, while Nathalie Bazin and Audrey Robichaud were ninth and 10th.
Hannah Kearney of the U.S. was second, holding onto her leader bib, while Margarita Marbler of Austria picked up the bronze.
Medals in speed skating, figure skating, sliding sports
In addition to the nine medals won in alpine and freestyle, Canadians won 19 additional medals in Olympic sports - speed skating, figure skating and sliding sports.
In short track speed skating Charles Hamelin won bronze in the men's 1,500 metres, Kalyna Roberge won bronze in ladies 1,000 metres, Francois-Louis Tremblay won bronze in men's 1,000 metre and gold in 500-metre, Jessica Gregg won gold in ladies 500 metre, and the Canadian men's and women's relay teams both won gold.
In speed skating, Kristina Groves won silver.
At the FIBT Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cup in Whistler, Pierre Lueders and David Bissett won bronze in two man, Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse won silver in women's bobsleigh, and Jon Montgomergy and Jeff Pain won gold and Bronze in men's skeleton.
This is a busy week for Canadian athletes with the FIS Snowboard World Cup at Cypress Mountain, World Cup moguls in Sweden and aerials in Russia, World Cup speed skating in Germany and The Netherlands, a Luge World Cup in Calgary (followed by a Luge World Cup in Whistler), across country World Cup in Italy, and ski jumping in Germany.