Canadian ski racer Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec (file photo: Pentaphoto/Alpine Canada)

Canada’s Erik Guay Ready to Defend World Downhill Championship Title

Schladming, Austria - Reigning world downhill champion Erik Guay headlines the Canadian ski team attending the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, hoping to defend his title and extend an incredible podium streak that stretches back to 2007.

Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, is among nine men and seven women flying the flag for Canada in Schladming – a squad that features speed team veterans on the men’s side and an up-and-coming women’s team hoping to underline its growing reputation as a major contender in the technical disciplines.

Jan Hudec, of Calgary, Alberta, helped put the Canadian Cowboys on the map when he won silver in the glamor discipline of downhill six years ago in Are, Sweden, and gave Canada its first podium on the men’s side at an alpine world championships since 1980. John Kucera, also of Calgary, kept the streak alive two years later when he became the first Canadian man to win gold in any alpine world championship event by claiming the downhill title in Val d’Isere, France, while Mike Janyk, of Whistler, British Columbia, also won bronze in slalom. Guay then successfully defended Kucera’s downhill title in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in 2011.

Canadian ski racer Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec (file photo: Pentaphoto/Alpine Canada)

Canadian ski racer Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec (file photo: Pentaphoto/Alpine Canada)

Guay is riding a hot streak heading into this year’s world championships, which will be held in Schladming through Feb. 17, after winning silver at the so-called “Super Bowl of ski racing” in Kitzbühel, Austria, just over a week ago.

“It would be huge to keep it in house but the reality is you have to perform on race day,” said Guay, of defending his world downhill title. “I’m realistic enough to know that defending world championship or Olympic titles is extremely difficult. The best thing I can hope is to ski well and then anything is possible.

“These past (few weeks) have been my best skiing of the year and maybe for a couple of years. I knew it was important to come into January with good results and I think I’ve accomplished that. The big work is done. All I can do now is focus on this week; focus on the process and do as much as I can every day.”

Canada’s podium streak at three successive world championships has helped the men’s team establish a reputation throughout the world as a major threat at the biggest races.

“There’s a humongous amount of pride in what we’ve been able to do in the last three world championships. Those guys are absolutely driven to keep that title in Canada,” said Paul Kristofic, vice-president of sports for Alpine Canada and previously head coach of the men’s team. “The 2006-07 season was a real breakthrough season for that team. It was almost like a confirmation that these guys were serious contenders, even in the big events. And then in 2009, with Johnny (Kucera’s) win, I really felt that it was the biggest thing that the team had accomplished – back-to-back podiums, a silver and a gold. I just felt like that was our title to keep and with Garmisch being such a strong place for us, it felt like it was our house.

“They are a proud bunch of guys – and nothing would make us more proud than to keep it in Canada.”

More than 320,000 spectators are expected to descend on the small Austrian town in the state of Styria for the world championships, which are set to feature 609 athletes representing 72 nations. A worldwide TV audience of more than 650 million is expected to follow the races.

Guay, Hudec, three-time World Cup winner Manuel Osborne-Paradis, of Vancouver, British Columbia, and young gun Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, British Columbia, make Canada a major contender in the men’s speed events, which take place this Wednesday (super G) and Saturday (downhill). Kucera won’t compete in this year’s event as he continues his comeback from a long-term injury.

“World championships are just such a big deal. Everyone comes together for a huge celebration – It’s like a mini Olympics for us,” said Hudec, who has battled a knee complaint this season but is always a threat come race day. “We’ve had three guys on the podium in the last three – that’s something not a lot of countries can say. It would be pretty cool to keep that streak going.

“My memories of 2007 are pretty amazing. I came from nowhere – having no expectations. I just kept the faith and had a few good training runs and popped in a second place. That’s something I’m carrying into this year’s world championships. I’m doing everything possible to be focused and in shape. When the timing is right I know I have a chance.”

Canada’s win streak is not unique in the history of ski racing. Both Austria and Switzerland – alpine ski racing’s traditional superpowers – have put together long win streaks in downhill, the most recent of which was from 1999 to 2003 when Austrians Hermann Maier, Hannes Trinkl and Michael Walchhofer won the men’s title in successive years. And in the 1970s and ’80s, Austrians won five in a row. The significance of Canada’s podium streak is that it was achieved by a nation that doesn’t have the same history of success as some of the European powerhouses.

“Being in a sport that’s dominated by the Austrians and Swiss – if they can’t win it, they’re most happy if Canada wins it,” Kristofic said. “When we won in Garmisch it was like the rest of the world celebrated with us.”

Schladming is a track that should suit Canada’s speed team’. Hudec, Thomsen and Guay finished eighth, 10th and 13th, respectively, in last year’s World Cup downhill held there.

“It’s a hill that actually suits our guys’ strengths really well. There’s a lot of gliding components to it, lots of terrain,” Kristofic said. “There’s lots of opportunities to be fast but it’s difficult to be fast. Our guys aren’t the only ones that are good at that stuff but it’s a huge opportunity for us to really do well.”

Thomsen, who was second at the Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia, last year, is excited to compete in his second world championships.

“This is our downhill title and we want to keep it,” said the 25-year-old. “I would like to have that world championship stay in Canadian pockets.”

On the women’s side, Larisa Yurkiw, of Owen Sound, Ontario, will fly the flag for Canada in the ladies’ downhill. Marie-Pier Préfontaine, of Saint-Sauveur Quebec, will join her in the super G.

In the technical disciplines, veteran Janyk – the hero at the 2009 world championships – leads the charge on the men’s side. He will be joined by 20-year-old Trevor Philp, of Calgary, who will be competing in his first world championships before heading to Quebec to race at the world junior championships. Other young male skiers on the roster include Phil Brown, of Toronto, Ontario, Sasha Zaitsoff, of Queens Bay, British Columbia, and Dustin Cook, of Lac-Sainte-Marie, Quebec.

Hopes are high for the Canadian ladies’ team in giant slalom and slalom, in particular, where four women have been consistent top-30 performers this season. Erin Mielzynski, of Guelph, Ontario, became the first Canadian since 1971 to win a slalom World Cup race last year and she’s carried that form into this season, getting back on the podium in January and racking up a total of four top-10 finishes.

“It could be a fantastic world championships for the women’s team,” said Mielzynski, 22. “It’s pretty incredible, what could happen. There are a lot of opportunities to show how strong we are as a team.

“I feel really good. I feel like everything’s kind of dialed in. I want to come into it and just ski the way I’ve been skiing. That feeling, which I got in Maribor (Slovenia) before I went out and which I get in training . . . If you get that feeling you know everything else will work out.”

Marie-Michèle Gagnon, of Lac-Etchemin, Quebec, is also a contender in both giant slalom and slalom, after claiming her first career World Cup podium last season. The 23-year-old had a superb start to the season and is getting back to her best.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s always fun to race and world championships is a huge deal,” Gagnon said. “I think I can go there in some ways under no pressure – I’m not really expecting as much. I’m just going to ski, have fun, race well and stick to the plan.”

In addition to Mielzynski and Gagnon, slalom specialists Brittany Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, and Elli Terwiel, of Sun Peaks, British Columbia, are enjoying breakthrough years. Phelan has had six top-30 results in slalom – one of which was a top 10 – while Terwiel has had two 17th-place finishes. There’s also a place for 17-year-old Mikaela Tommy, of Wakefield, Quebec, a member of the Quebec Ski Team who recently made her World Cup debut in giant slalom.

“The goal for the ladies is to confirm their place in the World Cup as contenders for podiums at big events,” Kristofic said. “They’re a new up-and-coming group and they’ve done some spectacular things. Being able to do it at big events is a really important step. I know they’ve done a lot of preparation on taking care of all the details.

“It’s the last big event they have before Sochi (2014 Olympic Winter Games) but mark my words, they are gunning to do well here and they are not thinking about Sochi too much. It’s really important that they stay true to their process.”

Canadian team, 2013 world championships

Men:

Name Age Hometown
Phil Brown 21 Toronto, Ont.
Dustin Cook 23 Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que.
Erik Guay 31 Mont-Tremblant, Que.
Jan Hudec 31 Calgary, Alta.
Mike Janyk 30 Whistler, B.C.
Manuel Osborne-Paradis 28 Vancouver, B.C.
Trevor Philp 20 Calgary, Alta.
Ben Thomsen 25 Invermere, B.C.
Sasha Zaitsoff 22 Queens Bay, B.C.

Women:

Name Age Hometown
Marie-Michèle Gagnon 23 Lac-Etchemin, Que.
Erin Mielzynski 22 Guelph, Ont.
Brittany Phelan 21 Mont-Tremblant, Que.
Marie-Pier Préfontaine 24 Saint-Sauveur, Que.
Elli Terwiel 23 Sun Peaks, B.C.
Mikaela Tommy 17 Wakefield, Que.
Larisa Yurkiw 24 Owen Sound, Ont.

Schedule

Date Event
Monday, Feb. 4 Opening ceremonies
Tuesday, Feb. 5 Ladies’ super G
Wednesday, Feb. 6 Men’s super G
Ladies’ downhill training
Thursday, Feb. 7 Men’s downhill training
Ladies’ downhill training
Friday, Feb. 8 Ladies’ super combined
Men’s downhill training
Saturday, Feb. 9 Men’s downhill
Ladies’ downhill training
Sunday, Feb. 10 Ladies’ downhill
Monday, Feb. 11 Men’s super combined
Tuesday, Feb. 12 Team event
Thursday, Feb. 14 Ladies’ giant slalom
Friday, Feb. 15 Men’s giant slalom
Saturday, Feb. 16 Ladies’ slalom
Sunday, Feb. 17 Men’s slalom

 

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