Injuries won't keep alpine team down

By TODD SAELHOF, QMI Agency

CALGARY — Alpine Canada hopes its athletes peak in Whistler, just in time for gold-medal runs and Olympic glory.

On Wednesday, the nation’s alpine ski body announced its team and goal for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Despite being ravaged by injuries, Alpine Canada has high expectations of seeing its 19 skiers, led by Manuel Osborne-Paradis, capture three podium finishes on the slopes next month.

“We’ve been hit with injuries very hard this year, especially to medal contenders,” said Alpine Canada chief athletics officer Max Gartner, whose will compete at the Games without top threats John Kucera of Calgary (broken leg) and Kelly VanderBeek of Kitchener (torn ACL).

“The only way to deal with this is to focus on the positives. What we have is less people — less bullets — giving us the opportunity to have great results, but we still have the quality people who can do it.

“We’re still confident we have the athletes who can do it.”

Topping that list is Osborne-Paradis, a North Vancouver native who learned to ski at Whistler.

Osborne-Paradis has three career World Cup wins — including two in his speciality, the men’s downhill — which offers Canada’s best gold-medal opportunity on the slopes.

“He’s definitely our top skier right now, and going home to Whistler helps him,” Gartner said. “Manny enjoyed the Olympics in 2006. He loves the big show, and I’m sure he’s got a game plan. And we have complete confidence in his ability.

“But there are variables in downhill. Will he get the right starting position and the right weather?”

Osborne-Paradis won the downhill last month in Val Gardena, Italy, and took gold in the Super G in Lake Louise a month earlier.

“To be able to represent your country on the World Cup circuit is always an honour, but qualifying for the Winter Olympics is another ball game,” Osborne-Paradis said. “To be able to compete, representing my country with athletes from all the different sports, is going to be a very special experience, especially with the Games in Canada.”

Another question in the downhill is whether Calgary’s Jan Hudec is in medal form, as he’s struggled to recover from a fifth knee surgery last year.

“Obviously, losing John Kucera is a big down for us, but we still feel our men’s speed side is still a strong entry,” Gartner said. “Jan can turn it on. Mike Janyk (of Whistler) can win a medal. Erik Guay (of Mont Tremblant, Que.), on any given day, can be right there.

“And Julien Cousineau (of Lachute, Que.) has moved from looking to get a good result at the Olympics to being a medal contender.”

On the women’s side, a medal seems out of reach.

With VanderBeek out and Anna Goodman of Pointe-Claire, Que., rehabbing a torn ACL, the pressures of reaching the podium fall on veterans Emily Brydon, who has two podium finishes in the downhill, and Britt Janyk.

But both have struggled in recent weeks, with Janyk now on a leave from the World Cup circuit with hopes of re-energizing herself at home.

Fernie, B.C.’s Brydon finished second and third in a pair of downhills at Lake Louise to start the season and Whistler’s Janyk collected fourth and eighth-place finishes in the same races.

“They’re not matching what they did in Lake Louise to start the season,” said Gartner of Whistler’s Janyk and Fernie, B.C.’s Brydon. “To win medals, they’re going to have to dig deep. Hopefully, we will have something to celebrate in Whistler.”

It’s hoped skiing on the home hill will help create cause for celebration.

“This is something that obviously I have been dreaming about for a long time,” Janyk said. “I grew up in Whistler dreaming about competing in an Olympic Games, and for my dream to be coming true in Whistler is going to be really special.”

Added Gartner, “We’re counting on the energy of the people at Whistler and hoping great results there will rub off on everybody. Some who grew up in Whistler and know its nuances is something we count under the positives. Our expectations are that they will all reach their potential at the Games.”


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