Turin Olympics a Biggs deal

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:49 AM ET

He's long outgrown the quaint ski hills of western Quebec, where a dream was first hatched and began to ferment.

But whenever he gets the chance, Patrick Biggs still eagerly makes the trek back to Camp Fortune, to inspire children with the same youthful aspirations he once had.

"Whenever I can, I get up to Camp Fortune and ski with some kids," said Biggs, a rising talent on Canada's World Cup alpine skiing team. "It's nice coming home, even though the hills there aren't so big to me anymore.

"They seemed big 15 years ago."

But Biggs has become rather big himself on the World Cup circuit these days, and in rather rapid fashion. And so it is, with the Turin Olympics less than three months away, that the 23-year-old from Ottawa can begin making serious plans for the biggest race of his young life.

"My parents (Nancy and David) have been able to get set up with tickets and accommodations for the Olympics," Biggs said in a recent interview, adding older brother Andrew and cousin Luke, from Australia, will also be part of his rooting section in Italy.

Biggs, a technical event specialist, was an instant sensation in his World Cup debut, finishing 10th in a slalom event in Chamonix, France in January. He beat everyone in the world in the second run, then repeated the the top-10 finish a week later in Wengen, Germany.

Suddenly, there was a buzz about the young Canadian who had taken the ski world by storm.

"It definitely came at me pretty fast last year," he said. "The goal at the start of the year was competing well on the Continental Cup and Europa Cup circuits. But then I won two Europa Cups and four NorAm races.

"My first World Cup, I had an incredible race. It happened a lot faster than I expected ... but once you ski well, you've got confidence behind you. Everything is going to be better and better from there."

STUNNING FINISH

More than that, he was pushing himself into the Olympic picture. But Biggs admits he remained somewhat oblivious to the thought of it all, even after he laid down a stunning ninth-place finish at the world championships in February in Bormio, Italy.

"I hadn't even thought about the Olympics," said Biggs. "But a couple of days after the world championships, someone said to me, 'Oh, by the way, you just made the qualifying standard for the Olympics.' "

So right now, he's in, and the planning for Turin can begin. Canada can send four men's slalom skiers to the Winter Games and there's a slight chance Biggs could be bumped if more than four make the qualifying standard during the upcoming World Cup season.

"Right now in slalom, three guys have qualified (veteran Thomas Grandi and Mike Janyk are the others)," he said. "If two others made the standard, it could change things, but it's very unlikely."

One of those hoping to fill that fourth spot is another Ottawa skier, Ryan Semple, who might have a better shot in giant slalom.

"It's looking promising for him to go in either event," said Biggs.

The competition right at home has helped produce a raft of improved results on the World Cup scene -- Grandi won a pair of races last season. Biggs said it's no accident.

"The older guys are getting (better results)," he said. "We've all seen them in training. If we can be competitive with them, then it gives us confidence to ski faster in the World Cups.

"It's built up the confidence of the whole team."

Indeed, Alpine Canada has rather ambitious plans for Turin, aiming to send its biggest team in years to a Winter Olympics.

"We're trying to qualify as many positions as we can," said Biggs. "It's been a real turnaround from past years. We've always had a full downhill team, and now we're strong on the technical side."

Another World Cup season is closing fast upon the horizon. For the slalom gang, it begins the Dec. 4 weekend in Beaver Creek, Colo.

Then it's off to Val d'Isere, France, to start the gruelling run through Europe's most famed ski haunts.

Along the way, Biggs will rub shoulders with the sport's biggest stars -- some of whom he's considered idols along the way. Now he's right there with them.

"All the idols I looked up to the last few years, now I'm racing against them," he said. "It's a real inspiration. It makes me get out there and work harder."

With the biggest mountain of them all now ever so clearly within reach.

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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