|Winner Jan Hudec, left, of Canada and his compatriot, third-placed Erik Guay, listen to the Canadian national anthem after the men's World Cup Downhill skiing race in Les Houches near Chamonix, France.
CHAMONIX, France - Canada made history in Chamonix, France, on Saturday, as Jan Hudec, Erik Guay and Ben Thomsen finished first, third and fifth, respectively, in the Audi FIS World Cup downhill.
Hudec, from Calgary, claimed his first World Cup podium since 2007 with a blistering run that pushed his teammate Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., into third – his 17th career World Cup podium and second in successive weekends. Young Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., then produced the run of his life to move all the way up to fifth despite starting 50th.
“For us to have a race like this with three guys in the top five, I mean, I think we blew everyone out of the water today,” said the 30-year-old Hudec. “I think everyone who was up on the hill was either impressed or stoked for us, or both. It was incredible. It was against the odds but I think we’re doing everything in our power to put ourselves in that position.
“Erik and I kind of got our revenge from yesterday, being so close to the podium,” added Hudec of Friday’s downhill in Chamonix, in which Guay was tied for fourth and Hudec was sixth. “Benni came down out of 50th in bad light and just absolutely hammered that thing. I think it just goes to show that, it doesn’t matter about your age, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been skiing the track. As long as we are sticking together and kind of working together every single day to get faster, our whole team can be successful.”
It’s the first time since 2007 that Canada has had two men on the World Cup podium in alpine skiing, when Guay and Manuel Osborne-Paradis were second and third in Val d’Isere, France. It’s also the best result for the men’s team since 1994, when Ed Podivinsky and Cary Mullen were first and second, respectively, in Saalbach, Austria. The last time the women’s alpine team had two on the podium in the World Cup was in 2005 in Santa Caterina, Italy, when Genevieve Simard was second and Allison Forsyth was third. Gerry Sorensen, Laurie Graham and Dianne Lehodey were first, third and fifth in downhill at the world championships in Schladming, Austria, in 1982.
Hudec, starting 24th, clocked a time of two minutes, 3.25 seconds Saturday to claim his third career World Cup podium and the second victory of his career. His first came in a downhill in Lake Louise, Alta., in November 2007. Saturday’s win came after years of battling knee, back, hand and other injuries.
“Living a life of mostly rehab can get tedious after a while and frustrating,” said Hudec, who is ranked ninth in the world in downhill after Saturday’s result. “I never stopped believing I could be back. I obviously had no idea how long it would take or when it would happen. I could just kind of smell it. To be on the podium after all these years and all these injuries is just an amazing feeling.”
Guay, the reigning world downhill champion, has been steadily improving all season after dealing with a persistent back injury and was second in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, last weekend. Following Saturday’s result, Guay is ranked sixth in the world in downhill.
“It’s pretty incredible. When I came through the finish … and seeing that green light, I felt like I was in a pretty good spot,” said Guay, who started 20th and crossed the line in a time of 2:03.88.
“If I had to get bumped back I’m glad it was a guy like Jan who bumped me back. After watching him on the flats it was pretty impressive. And then, to have Ben come down No. 50 and to be able to put down such a solid run, I think it speaks volumes about where the team is right now and where we’re heading.”
Sandwiched in between Hudec and Guay on the podium was Austria’s Romed Baumann, who clocked a time of 2:03.78. Swiss star Beat Feuz was fourth in 2:04.00.
Thomsen, 24, had a career-best result Friday when he finished 11th in the first Chamonix World Cup downhill. He went one better Saturday when he produced a scorching run in difficult conditions to cross the line in 2:04.28.
“I think I’m still in a little bit of shock. It hasn’t quite hit me yet,” Thomsen said. “Just the momentum of having good results and seeing that good skiing was finally paying off - and all the hard work that we put in - really motivated us this week. Yesterday having some good results … was good, but we knew we could do better.
“Seeing Erik come down in the lead and the Jan taking over and having two guys on the podium made me feel I could be right in there with them - knowing that I’m fast in training and I could be close to those guys and get a top-10 result.”
Paul Kristofic, head coach of the men’s alpine team, said it’s unusual for all the ingredients of a successful run to come together on one day – let alone for all three racers.
“You certainly feel proud to wear the jacket and be Canadian. It’s just an amazing day for everybody,” Kristofic said. “It’s rare for a country that doesn’t field a really big team or a really big team, such as us at the moment. To have only three guys starting and all three in the top five is amazing. These things don’t come around very often.”
Guay, Hudec and Thomsen have all been skiing well in recent weeks and Kristofic says he got a sense that another big result was around the corner following Guay’s podium in Garmisch.
“I felt it coming,” Kristofic said. “We felt we could have had a day like that yesterday. They’ve been building up steam all month. They are starting to peak at the right time. They had amazing runs today. To do what they did today you had to do almost everything right.
“It’s a great course for (Guay and Hudec). Both of their servicemen did the best job out there – they share in this big time today. Skis make such a difference at every World Cup and particularly this one. Ben? The kid is on fire. He came down 11th yesterday and today was totally spectacular.”
Kristofic was delighted to see Hudec claim his first win since 2007.
“This is one of the guys who has some of the best natural talent and incredible skill to carry speed on the skis - and he’s determined,” Kristofic said. “I’ve been there for every one of his podiums and his two wins now – each one of them has been very special for me.
“It’s always special when you see a guy who’s struggled with injury and other things to succeed and really sort of triumph on a day like today.”