Biggs making giant strides

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

He watched the Austrian giant flash down the mountain in the French Alps toward Olympic glory, and he was hooked. An ocean away on a television screen in Orleans, the nine-year-old boy saw the name of Patrick Ortlieb in the gold-medal position after the men's downhill had concluded at the 1992 Albertville Games. It was clear they shared more than a passion for skiing.

The passion was soon poured into school projects, as the boy sought to learn everything about the champion and his homeland.

"He had the same first name as me," Patrick Biggs says now, reflecting on the moment his biggest ski dreams began to form. "I got pretty excited when I saw that. I got all this information about Austria and the ski team and the Olympics.

"I was really excited about it."

Never mind that Ortlieb was a downhiller, and Biggs would go on to specialize in the technical events, the slalom and the giant slalom. The spark was lit, and it has driven Biggs through the tough times to where he is today.

And isn't it rich with irony, don't you think, that Biggs' coming out party on the World Cup scene would occur on the ski hills of another Olympic locale in France?

STUNNING RESULT

Last month in Chamonix, Biggs shocked the ski world in his World Cup debut, placing 10th in a slalom event and -- even more stunningly -- winning the second run in the process. He followed that up a week later with another 10th-place finish in Wengen, Switzerland.

Suddenly, he's halfway to punching himself a ticket for the 2006 Turin Olympics -- a 12th-place finish or higher in a World Cup slalom next season will finish the job.

"I've got the minimum (qualifying) criteria right now, which is really exciting," said Biggs over the phone form Veysonnaz, Switzerland, where he was making final preparations for the world alpine championships in Bormio, Italy. "It's looking like there's a really strong chance I'll be going."

Even a year ago, the thought of the Olympics seemed so far off for Biggs, a 22-year-old from a skiing family -- his father, David, was once a member of the Australian national team, while mother Nancy made it to the Canadian national development team. He entered the 2003-04 ski season ranked 200th in the world in men's slalom.

Now he's No. 30 with a bullet.

'BLASTED OFF'

"This fall, he just blasted off," said Alpine Canada president Ken Read, one of the 'Crazy Canucks' who tore up the ski world in the 1970s. "He had a pair of Europa Cup wins, a NorAm slalom and GS (giant slalom) win. Then he hopped on a plane, went to Chamonix and beat everybody in the world ... it's truly remarkable.

"He did the same thing the next week, and virtually the same thing 10 days later (17th in Schladming, Austria). He's very definitely not a one-time wonder."

The seeds for Biggs' amazing run were planted following an early season NorAm continental event in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where, Biggs admitted, "I struggled pretty badly."

"We came back from those races and started training with the World Cup guys, and I tried to figure some things out," he said. "It all started coming together there in training in November.

"The results started to come in late December on the race course. That's the point when I started thinking maybe I can do something here and get those World Cup results I was hoping for."

Two Europa Cup (the circuit below the World Cup) wins in the Czech Republic in December buoyed his confidence. The World Cup call came a few weeks later.

He didn't waste the opportunity.

"If you don't perform, (Alpine Canada) has a couple of other slalom skiers right behind you," said Biggs.

The top-30 ranking is crucial because it's those skiers who get the best start positions for World Cup races. Anything below that, and you're dealing with a chewed up racetrack and, quite possibly, deteriorating weather conditions.

All of which made his finish in Chamonix -- he drew the 59th and last starting position for the first run, yet squeezed into the top 30 who qualified for the second -- even more astonishing. His followup results boosted his ranking into the coveted top 30 (Biggs is actually No. 27 in the World Cup ratings; in the international table, he ranks 30th).

"That's where you want to be," said Read, who put the formula for skiing success simply. "You've got to get to the World Cup and you've got to deliver and you've got to do it more than once."

It's certainly a far cry from his early days on the Alpine Ontario circuit, when Biggs counted on his parents to handle the $20,000 in annual expenses.

Even before this season, Biggs had to work a summer job, run a fund-raiser and bank on the support of people like Tommy & Lefebvre and Camp Fortune to come up with the $18,500 he needed to keep the dream alive.

Now that all seems in the past. And Biggs hopes to cement his status among the world's elite on the slopes of Bormio next Saturday, when the slalom final is held at the world championships.

"I'm trying for the top 10, which would match my best World Cup result," he said. "But to do it again at a world championship, which has a lot more emphasis and pressure on it ... And if I could get in the top five, that would be incredible."

AROUND THE AMATEUR SCENE: Two-time Olympian Sherraine Mac-Kay of Ottawa finished ninth in women's epee at a World Cup women's fencing event in Prague ... The Kars Aces will be the hosts for the Canadian junior fastpitch championships, July 31-Aug. 7 in Manotick ... Two local soccer sides, the Ottawa Capital United Under-13 boys and the Gloucester Emerald Under-13 girls, were entered in the Ontario Indoor Cup championship tournaments this weekend in Vaughan ... The Gloucester Devils finished January at No. 4 in the National Ringette League's Elite Eight rankings.


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