Golden opportunity

DARREN FRIESEN -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

With the world championships on the horizon, Thomas Grandi decided to get in some extra practice.

Even if it was a little unorthodox.

Already in Italy for a little R 'n' R, the two-time World Cup gold medallist took a road trip with his coach to Bormio.

But instead of taking regular training runs with the planet's best carvers, Grandi decided to use a modified system to work on his turns -- the human slalom.

"There weren't any gates, it was just free-skiing on the hill with the public," said Grandi.

"We just looked around, took a couple runs and dodged some tourists. It wasn't exactly high quality training but I got a feel for the hill, which was really important."

Having the season of his life, Grandi, who captured his first World Cup gold medal in Alta Badia, Italy on Dec. 19 and then followed it up with an encore performance a week later in Flachau, Austria, is trying to cap off his year with a podium at the world championships.

The 32-year-old Canmore native knows this may be his last chance to show well at this event; therefore, he's taking every opportunity to get himself ready.

Racing starts tomorrow with the men's super-G up first out of the gate. The event will run all week with Grandi going next Wednesday in the GS and Saturday in slalom.

"It hasn't been a regular stop on the World Cup over the last few years, so none of us really know that hill really well," Grandi explained of the Bormio race site.

"It was just fun for me to get a feel for the hill, so I could do some visualization between now and then.

"So far, I like what I see. It's not super challenging."

Grandi will be the veteran of a solid Canadian squad that has nice blend of young and old.

Headlining the women's team will be Allison Forsyth and Genevieve Simard, both of whom have won World Cup medals this year already.

Defending world champion Melanie Turgeon has pulled out from racing this year due to injury.

Patrick Biggs, 22, of Orleans, Ont., and Calgary's Brad Spence, 20, will make their world debuts.

For now, though, all eyes will be on the Italian born, Alberta-raised Grandi.

"For the first time in my career, I feel like I'm really ready for a big event," said Grandi, whose best finish at the worlds was seventh in 1996 at Sierra Nevada, Spain. "I've always gone into the championships with an underlying chance to win. I know that I'm totally capable of winning.

"It's just a matter of putting two great runs together. I'm looking forward to doing exactly that."

Grandi admits every race he enters has its different pressures but this event is as close as it gets to the Olympic spotlight.

"The way I'm looking at these world championships is that they're a dress rehearsal for next season," he said of the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

"Obviously, it's a big event this year, so it's going to be good preparation for next year at this time during the Olympics. There's going to be a lot of similarities between now and then.

"Things that go wrong can be corrected for next year and things that go right can be done the same."

Grandi is already starting to become a star in Europe where ski racing is as high profile as hockey is here.

That's why instead, paying for lift tickets in Bormio he decided to just drop his name and see what happened.

"My coach and I didn't want to buy lift tickets, so I just bought a bunch of my postcards to the ticket window and told them who I was.

"They were pretty excited."

If Grandi can continue his dream season with a world championship medal, he might just be recognized in Canada, too.


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