Racing for recognition

DARREN FRIESEN -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

The battle to put his sport in the spotlight has been a constant struggle for Thomas Grandi.

Sounding more like Alpine Canada president Ken Read than a carefree Canmore native, the downhill skier speaks with conviction when the subject of next year's Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, is broached.

"The Olympics take on an even greater importance for Canadians," said Grandi.

"We finally have the spotlight for that short period of time but we have to capitalize on it."

Ever since Grandi joined the national program in 1993, he has tried to give his technical disciplines -- giant slalom and slalom -- the attention they deserve.

Traditionally, Canadian skiers and their fans have widely regarded the downhill disciplines as the bread and butter of alpine racing, due in large part to the success of the Crazy Canucks in the 1970s and '80s.

But with Grandi capturing two World Cup gold medals this season, more and more people have recognized the achievements of not just the 33-year-old carver but the sport of alpine skiing, too.

However, to stay in that spotlight, Grandi knows getting the headlines during next year's Games is essential.

"In Europe, ski racing is in the papers on a daily basis," he explained. "All the World Cups are important, the world championships are really important but the bulk of our press comes during the Olympics, which means more attention to the sport and the athletes."

Other top Canadian male alpine skiers include Erik Guay of Mont Tremblant, Que., and Calgarian Jan Hudec. On the women's side, Alison Forsyth of Canmore and Genevieve Simard of Val-Morin, Que., both of whom cracked the top-10 in 2002 at Salt Lake, will be expected to carry the torch.

Even a bronze medal would be a huge accomplishment for a team in rebuilding mode. The last Canadian alpine skier to medal at the Olympics was Ed Podivinsky at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer. He won a bronze in downhill.

As one of the veterans, Grandi is aware this will be his last Olympics, which means he won't be able to see Read's 2010 podium program through to completion.

However, making Canada aware of the significant strides the alpine team has made in recent years must start with solid performances in Turin.

"The more media and press attention I can get for alpine skiing, but specifically GS and slalom, the better," said Grandi.

"But to have an impact on a big scale, the Olympics are so important for us."

Choosing to focus on the big picture has helped him perform better individually.

"It's important to have a bigger purpose than just yourself because that can help you push you through a lot of the difficult times."

Grandi, who's in the midst of racing at the world championships in Bormio, Italy, would love to retire from skiing with an Olympic gold medal on his resume.

Grandi also wants to be remembered as someone who built his sport.

"If I can leave a legacy of Canadians being good technical skiers -- it's something that gets me excited and I can draw a lot of motivation from," he said.

"When I see kids getting excited about it, especially GS and slalom, I feel like I had something to do with that.

"For me, at the end of the day, that's going to be a big measurement on the success level."


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