Omischl's back and injury free

By KEN PAGAN, QMI Agency


Steve Omischl jumps during a Canadian freestyle aerials team training camp at Apex Resort near Penticton, B.C., Nov. 24, 2009. (Mike Ridewood/Canadian Freestyle Ski Association)

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — It was a crucial period in the middle of the most important season of Steve Omischl’s life, but there was nothing he could do.

With the Olympic Games a little more than a month away, the three-time defending World Cup aerials champion suffered a “minor” concussion earlier this month, knocking him out of a World Cup event in Calgary and away from the ski hill entirely.

A mishap during training resulted in swelling and temporary vision problems, so national team doctors and officials mandated a precautionary rest.

“The most important time of the year and I’m sitting in my hotel room watching episodes of Californication,” the 31-year-old Omischl joked. “I took 10 days where I didn’t do a thing. They wouldn’t let me get on a bike, they wouldn’t let me go to the gym. I literally sat in my hotel room.”

Perhaps extra time to prepare for what’s ahead, or reflect on what has made the North Bay aerialist one of the most accomplished — and consistent — athletes in the sport’s history.

Omischl is now back, injury-free, and when he takes to the Olympic course at Cypress Mountain Feb. 22, the four-time World Cup champion will be ready. He’s rejuvenated and as focused as ever.

“If anything, it (the 10-day layoff) heightened things,” Omischl said following his ninth-place finish at the World Cup event in Lake Placid, Jan. 22. “When I came back, I knew I couldn’t waste any days. The last two weeks have probably been the two best training weeks of my life. I’m very consistent, the coaches are very happy, I’m very happy. I know I’m jumping at a high level.”

Upon his return to competition Jan. 15 in Deer Valley, Utah, a missed landing cost Omischl a spot in the final. It was the first time he missed a World Cup final since 2006.

He responded with the ninth-place finish at Lake Placid, where four Canadian teammates finished among the top seven in a mad scramble to qualify for the Olympic team, for which Omischl had already pre-qualified.

But it was still only ninth place and this is Steve Omischl, who has 40 World Cup medals in 80 career events. So it might add motivation to keep things going, but World Cup results this season are not the goal as much as being fully prepared for the Olympics.

This season’s 0-for-4 in World Cup podiums might be an indication Omischl isn’t on top of his game — in comparison to going 8-for-9 during the 2007-08 season — but that may not be the case.

“I’m doing harder jumps now than I normally do on World Cup,” the Widdifield Secondary School graduate said. “If I look at my results, then yes, this week and last week were tough for sure.

But in China (the World Cup opener in December) I had a fourth and a fifth and last year I think I was (fifth), so I was arguably better this year than last year in China.

“Then I took that concussion and missed 10 days of training, but I’ve come back and I’m jumping well. Last week could have very easily been a Top-5 performance. And the same with tonight — if that second jump was a bit cleaner, I would have been right up there.”

When that next World Cup victory comes — perhaps Saturday at Mont Gabriel, Que., the last competition before the Olympics — Omischl will tie Canadian Lloyd Langlois’ all-time record with his 21st World Cup victory.

That would give him 41 World Cup medals to go with four from the world championships and four overall World Cup titles, but there is a glaring omission from the collection — an Olympic medal.

When Omischl takes to Cypress Mountain Feb. 22, where he won gold in a World Cup stop a year ago, he’ll have the experience from two Olympic Games under his belt and the knowledge that he has worked his tail off for a decade to remain with the best in the world.

At the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, a 23-year-old Omischl was in fourth place heading into the finals, but touched his back on his final jump, finishing 11th.

At Turin in 2006, during an injury-riddled season, he again missed a landing on a high-risk jump in the preliminaries, missing the final and finishing 20th.

“I’ve been there — for sure, I’m going to feel more comfortable and I know that, at the end of the day, I don’t have to worry about the outcome,” Omischl said of his approach leading up to his third Olympics, noting the excitement and adrenaline he dealt with in Salt Lake.

In a sport where the weather or the whim of a judge can be as much of a factor as the slightest miscalculation while performing the triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jumps 20 metres in the air, Omischl has consistently said all he can do is put himself in the best position to succeed.

He’s trying to focus on the process and not the outcome.

“It so doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of life for me,” he said. “If I can do the two jumps I’m capable of, whatever the outcome, I’m going to be very happy with that. It is very tough when you put your self-worth on the outcome of an event that could easily go one way or the other. I’ve been on both sides of it.

“Coming back from Turin, (the low point in his career), I definitely at that point put my self-worth on the outcome, which is a very tough thing to deal with, because they don’t always go your way. Especially in a judged sport, where you don’t always get the points you deserve.

“I’d be lying if I said I’m good (at dealing with it). Of course, I’m still going to put my self-worth on the outcome, but I’m definitely not going to think about it or get caught up in that leading up to it.”

That leads into the question of whether Omischl will roll the dice at the Games. At Lake Placid last week, U.S. competitor Jeret Peterson pushed the envelope with a quintuple-twisting jump, but the landing wasn’t perfect and it reflected in a 10th-place finish. The event was won by red-hot Anton Kushnir of Belarus, who opted for a less-difficult jump, but performed it flawlessly to win and reach the podium for the fifth time in five World Cups this season.

“What I learned in Turin, by risking it in the semifinals, I’m definitely not going to do that again,” Omischl said. “I won’t push it until I have to push it. That was a good lesson, too, because maybe I don’t even have to push it in the finals. Maybe if I do easier jumps and do them flawlessly, I can get a medal.”

Whether it’s the Olympics or on World Cup, each event is different and there’s no telling who, if anyone, is going to try and pull one out of the hat. It’s a constant risk/reward analysis that doesn’t play out until the final jump.

“I have no idea if I’ll end up doing five twists or if I’ll do the quad twists I’ve got,” Omischl said. “Honestly, that’s a very tough question. It’s like you roll the dice. I’m either going to roll the dice and maybe it’s going to work out, or I play it safe and I might end up coming third at best.

“In great conditions, the guys jump at a very high level. You have to be pretty flawless to even get on the podium.”

Quick Facts

Aerialist Steve Omischl, a Canadian medal hopeful at the Vancouver Olympics:

— Born: Nov. 16, 1978 in North Bay (now lives in Kelowna, B.C.)

— Past Olympic results: 11th in 2002 at Salt Lake; 20th in 2006 at Turin.

— World Cup: Four-time World Cup aerials champion (2004, 2007, 2008, 2009); 20 career victories and 40 podiums in 80 events

— World Championships: Won gold in 2005, silver in 2009 and bronze in 2003 and 2007.

Olympic schedule: Qualifying is Feb. 22; final round is Feb. 25.

POLL