Canada hopes to field its strongest men’s alpine skiing team in decades with one goal in mind: to break a 16-year Olympic drought without a medal.
Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Canada’s best chance for a medal in alpine skiing, is not fazed by the heaps of pressure placed on him. The key he says is to focus on the Olympics as just any other race, even if he could potentially become the first Canadian to win a gold medal on home soil when he takes part in the downhill event on February 13, day two of the Games.
“If you put all the pressure on one race, you’re not going to be able to perform on that race,” said Osborne-Paradis to Jim Morris of the Canadian Press. “Every race I do this year is as important as the next race.”
There are five alpine skiing events: downhill, super giant slalom (super-G), giant slalom, slalom, and super combined, an event that sees the racer add together the times of a downhill and slalom run.
Osborne-Paradis specializes in the downhill and super-G, the two longest and fastest events of the five. He is ranked third overall in the world this season for downhill and seventh for super-G.
The BC native is heading into his second Olympics, this time as the top ranked Canadian; a rather different story than his first Winter Games, where he was just a 22 year old looking to get his feet wet at the 2006 event in Turin, Italy.
Now he must perform in front of his home country on the world’s biggest stage, on the mountain he learned to ski on at the age of three, as one of the favourites to make the podium.
The skier has already found success this season, winning both the Val Gardena World Cup of Downhill and the Lake Louise super-G. Because of that success, he has had to deal with increased expectations.
“Every year it has gotten more serious,” said Osborne-Paradis to the Canadian Press. “There are more expectations for myself, from people, from sponsors.”
Sharing the medal hopeful’s burden are 12 fellow Canadian racers, a mix of Olympic veterans and newcomers.
- Erik Guay, Mont-Tremblant, QC. Was fourth place in the super-G at the 2006 Olympics, 0.1 seconds away from a bronze medal finish. He has two top-10 finishes this season. Currently ranked sixth in the world for the Super-G event.
- Julien Cousineau, Lachute, QC. Finished 5th at the Schladming, Austria World Cup on January 26th in the slalom event.
- Michael Janyk, Vancouver, BC. Finished 5th at the Kitzbuehel, Austria World Cup on January 24th. Has two other top-10 finishes this season. Has home field advantage as he grew up skiing on Whistler.
- Robbie Dixon, Whistler, BC. Has two top-10 finishes this season. Like Janyk, Dixon also grew up skiing on Whistler.
Among the rest of the world, the Austrians are showing once again that they are the top force on the slopes. The Austrians won 14 of 30 medals in the 2006 Olympics, while second place Sweden won only four.
Expect Austria to take the largest share of hardware once again, led by multi-disciplined Benjamin Raich.
Raich has the potential to win four medals as he is ranked in the top five for four different alpine events. Much to the delight of Canadian fans hoping for a medal from Osborne-Paradis, the one race Raich does not take part in is the downhill event.
Ranking ahead of Osborne-Paradis in the downhill event are two Swiss skiers, Carlo Janka and Didier Cuche.
John Kucera began the season ranked as the top Canadian, but a leg injury at a World Cup event ended his chance for an Olympic appearance.
His injury is just one of several that has hit the Canadian alpine skiing team. In addition to Kucera, two-time Olympian Jean-Phillipe Roy and fourth place giant slalom finisher in Turin, Francois Bourque, are also left out of the games with injury.
The alpine skiing events will take place at Whistler Creekside, a site that has been used for many skiing World Cups and other international competitions. According to Tourism Whistler, the Dave Murray Downhill course, which will be used for the men’s side of competition, is the second-longest course in the world.