Little Crazy Canuck an Olympic hopeful

Famous father Dave Murray passed on love of slopes to daughter

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI AGENCY

TOWN OF THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, Ont. — A birth announcement appeared in a small British Columbia newspaper 21 years ago last month, heralding the arrival of one Julia Elizabeth Murray, a “hefty” eight pounds, 11 ounces, born at Squamish General Hospital.

It ended with: “The only question now is, will she be a freestyle skier or downhill racer?”

Until 2007, the answer was still up in the air.

Now, there is no doubt. Julia Murray, who once had dreams of making the Canadian alpine ski team like her father Dave Murray, is a freestyle skier, in the relatively new discipline of ski cross. In fact, barring an unforeseen meltdown at this week’s Ski Cross World Cup, which begins here on Tuesday, and next week’s World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., Murray will be part of the Canadian team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where ski cross will make its Games debut.

There was little doubt that Murray would make her mark in either freestyle or alpine skiing, given her bloodlines. Her mom, Stephanie Sloan, was a three-time world champion in freestyle skiing.

Her dad, Dave, was a member of the Crazy Canucks, the legendary downhill racers known for their daring style of racing. Murray, along with Ken Read, Steve Podborski and Dave Irwin, dominated the toughest and most treacherous downhill courses on the World Cup circuit and, the deal was, either they landed on the podium, or in the hospital.

Sadly, less than two years after Julia’s birth, Dave Murray died, at 37, of melanoma.

And though Julia never got to know her dad, she certainly knows him, from the many stories told to her by her family and people involved in ski racing.

In fact, the personable 21-year-old figures she is a lot like her dad.

“He was the Maharishi Yogi Mur of the Canadian team. Did you catch that?” Murray said, with a laugh. “He was a super chilled guy that apparently came out with all these philosophical lines.”

Julia Murray said she rarely gets angry or uptight, although that’s not always a good thing when you compete in ski cross, dubbed the NASCAR of ski racing, where four racers at a time fly down a mountain course and contact is generally the order of the day.

“That’s something I had to work on,” Murray said. “When people are beside me on the course, I have to learn to stick to my line, instead of being nice and giving them room. I’ve had to be little more aggressive.”

That mind set has paid dividends on the World Cup this season. Already this year, the Whistler-based freestyler has landed twice on the podium, with a second in Les Contamines, France, behind teammate Ashleigh McIvor, and a third in St. Johann, Austria, as well as two fourth-place finishes.

The Olympic ski cross event will be held just outside of Vancouver at Cypress Mountain, and the Canadian team stands to do quite well. At last year’s World Cup on the Olympic course, Canada took five of the six podium spots, with Aleisha Cline and Chris Del Bosco taking gold. Murray finished fifth.

And while Murray certainly plans to be at Cypress Mountain for the Olympic women’s ski cross on Feb. 23, it’s a good bet she also will be in Whistler on Feb. 13 to watch the men’s downhill. How could she not be? The men’s downhill will be held on the Dave Murray course, one of the top downhill runs in the world. Julia and her mom used to end each day of skiing on that particular course, sort of an homage to her dad, and because they lived close by.

“When I was in elementary school, I used to do the countdown for the World Cup races,” said Murray said Monday, grabbing an imaginary microphone. “5-4-3-2-1, Go!”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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