Osborne-Paradis aware of what's on the line

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

WHISTLER -- Despite his past protests and perceived indifference, the magnitude of the moment is not lost on Manuel Osborne-Paradis.

For several years now, the Canadian downhill ace tried to play down his quest for gold on the slopes he first began to descend shortly after he could walk.

It's just another race, he tried to claim. Then there was this classic line uttered some 24 months ago about his home Games: "You don't even plan a pregnancy two years in advance."

Then this past summer, Osborne-Paradis made the drive up and north from Vancouver to visit his parents and as he took in the sights and acknowledged what awaits, the tune began to change.

"It was a kind of humbling drive all the way up," Osborne-Paradis said this week.

When he bursts from the starting gate, Osborne-Paradis will attempt to put aside all that awaits at the bottom of the 3,158-metre run on the Dave Murray downhill course.

For his country, there is the chance to finally win a gold medal for the first time at home on the first full day of the third Games held in Canada.

For his sport, there is the prospect of more history. Of all the great Canadian male skiers, from the swashbuckling Crazy Canucks of the 1970s and '80s to the current Canadian Cowboys, none have captured Olympic gold.

That could all change in less than two minutes should Osborne-Paradis, or fellow Whistler veteran Robbie Dixon, use their local knowledge and talent to start the Games off in style.

"(Osborne-Paradis) is the first guy who will tell you that pressure's a privilege," Alpine Canada coach Paul Kristofic said, dismissing the suggestion that the weight of a nation might be too much. "If you come into this thing and the whole country is looking at you, they're looking at you for a reason."

Assuming the weather co-operates -- and given the thickness of the fog here on Friday that's far from a lock -- Osborne-Paradis enters the competition as one of the favourites, alongside the Swiss and Austrian stars on the World Cup circuit.

Ranked third in the World Cup downhill standings, the graduate of the Whistler Mountain ski club has two wins already in this season, the best year of his career: At Val Gardena, Italy and the Super-G on home soil at Lake Louise.

As for the pressure, Osborne-Paradis doesn't even flinch.

"The Swiss and Austrians deal with pressure on a day-to-day basis, and they seem to do OK with it," said the 26-year-old Vancouver native, who was 16th in his Olympic debut four years ago in Turin. "I'm OK with it, too. Right now, this is the best I've ever skied. When you're at a level you've never achieved before, it's a lot easier to just be confident."

Not necessarily easy to win, however. The previous skier to capture downhill gold on his home slope was the great Austrian Franz Klammer, who was just 22 when he did it at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria.

Among Canadian men, only two have captured downhill medals at the Games: Edi Podivinsky's bronze at Lillehammer in 1994, and Steve Podborski's medal of the same colour at Lake Placid in 1980.

So will Manny be the man to put aside the challenge and the pressure and the conditions and go for glorious gold?

"He has the kind of confidence you only get by having success," Kristofic said of his prized pupil. "And this is a guy that can win any race he starts right now."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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