KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - In the history of Olympic downhill skiing there have been 55 medals handed out.
Eighteen gold. None of them went to Canada.
Eighteen silver. None of them went to Canada.
Nineteen bronze — there was a tie in St. Moritz to bring the number up by one — of which Canada has two, one by 2014 chef de mission Steve Podborski in 1980, the other by Edi Podivinsky in Lillehammer in 1994.
Since then, the decorated Erik Guay has finished fifth in Vancouver and 10th in Sunday’s race here. Since then, Manny Paradis-Osborne has finished 13th, 17th and 25th in three Olympic attempts. Since then, Brian Stemmle led and didn’t finish. Since then, Paradis thought he was on the podium but the race was wiped out because of weather conditions in Turin.
Since then, a whole lot of Canadian skiers have shook their heads and their fists, grown angry, talked of what could have been and, in the end, did what Guay did Sunday: He shrugged without any real sense of defiance, an admission of sorts without words that this sport, in this venue, isn’t something a Canadian may ever win.
Maybe we’re foolish to think a win is possible. Maybe we need to look at skiing differently. Maybe we’re wrong to always think this might be the year. It seems every Olympics there is a downhill hopeful and every Olympics he is left to explain what didn’t happen.
And here’s the strange thing.
This was a signature Canadian sport in the days of the Crazy Canucks with Ken Read and Podborski but, great as they were, they have just one Olympic medal to show for their 13 World Cup downhill wins. It is that difficult and deep a sport. It is that removed from who we are and what we do.
But this isn’t about difficult and deep. Canadians win the odd World Cup race these days. Guay won a downhill this season. Paradis, who turned 30 on Saturday, has won a few in the past. Same for Jan Hudec, who finished 21st Sunday and thought he “kind of sucked.”
What we have in Canada are Milos Raonic skiers: They win tournaments in San Jose but don’t factor in the majors. They win races in other years and other places but not Olympic medals.
Hudec admitted he didn’t really go for it Sunday the way he’d want to go for it, the way the winners went for it, and to hear that at an Olympics is, well, more than disappointing.
Since Podivinsky stepped on the podium in Lillehammer, there have been 17 different Olympic downhill skiers for Canada, including Podivinsky. Five have finished Top 20. Seven have finished Top 30. The notion Podborski floated recently that Canada is making a breakthrough in alpine skiing doesn’t seem to hold up upon further examination.
In Sunday morning’s downhill on the soft snow at Rosa Khutor, Guay never challenged, finishing tenth. Ben Thomsen was 19th. Hudec was 21st. Paradis, starting way back, finished way back in 25th.
Those are the kind of results that will make Alpine Canada’s job of fundraising more challenging than usual after these Olympics. It will also put skiing in a position where the Own The Podium money may go in another direction.
They were 10th, 19th, 21st and 25th in Sochi.
They were fifth, 17th, and 25th on their home course in Vancouver.
They were 13th, 16th, 27th in Turin.
They were 24th 32nd, 38th in Salt Lake City.
They were fifth, 19th, DNF and DNF in Nagano.
Enough numbers to almost fill a bingo card but the numbers, sadly, speak for themselves.
When asked about the Canadian performance here in the downhill, Hudec said: “It kind of sucked.”
Said the well-established Guay: “I made a couple of mistakes here and there. But even then, it wouldn’t have been a winning run. There’s a little something missing in my skiing.”
That seems to be true across the board for Canadian downhill skiers. The reality is, they’re nowhere on the world stage. And not at all lucky. Paradis, who lost a possible podium spot in Turin due to weather, lost a starting spot Sunday when a re-draw was necessary.
First he was fourth — a favourable position. On the redraw, necessary because of a human error, he wound up starting 30th.
But they never do seem to get a break. The winner of the gold medal, Matthias Mayer of Austria, has never won a World Cup race. He has the medal.
Guay, Hudec and Paradis have their World Cup wins.
In what is certain to be the last Olympics for Bode Miller, there was no storybook ending in the men’s downhill.
Miller, the great American who had dominated training runs for the men’s event, was dominated Sunday by a downhill track that seemed to take the best away from many of the world’s most decorated skiers.
Miller skied the top of the course quite well, but couldn’t summon the strength at 36 to remain deep in his crouch for the final portions of the race.
Both Miller and Norwegian favourite Aksel Lund Svindal didn’t have enough to wind up on the podium; Miller finished eighth and Svindal missed the bronze medal by less than a third of a second.
Matthias Mayer of Austria was the upset winner — and nobody saw the coming.
“As long as I’ve been skiing, the favourites have never won the downhill at the Olympics,” said Canadian Manny Osborne-Paradis. “I don’t know why.”
Osborne-Paradis though was rather shocked to see Mayer win.
“Listen, we’re all good skiers here, but I wouldn’t have expected that,” Osborne-Paradis said.
Maybe the best reaction of the day came from Italian Christof Innerhofer, who won the silver medal. He was so excited by his time when he reached the bottom of the hill that he leapt out of his skis, rolled around in the snow and demonstrated the pure joy athletics can bring.
Miller, owner of five Olympic medals, still has his signature event — the Super G — to come.