Next Crazy Canucks rounding into shape

GEORGE GROSS

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

At a time when overseas travel, even with Air Canada, was fun, I used to cover the Olympic Games, hockey and figure skating world championships and often international ski events.

On one such occasion, I travelled to Austria, Switzerland and Germany and thought I would test a few Europeans about their knowledge of Canada.

But when I asked a few of them if they knew who was the Canadian prime minister, I drew a blank stare. However, when asked if they knew the Canadian skiers, their faces lit up and they said, almost in unison: "Oh, ya! Crazy Canucks."

Indeed, the four Crazy Canucks -- Ken Read, Steve Podborski, Dave Irwin and Dave Murray -- were talked about all over Europe as the daredevils of the ski slopes.

Today, Read is the supreme commander of Canada's alpine ski program. When I reached him in his Calgary office and asked about the next generation of the Crazy Canucks, the graying executive who speaks fluently perhaps a half dozen languages, seemed quite optimistic.

"We have, what I'd call, Carving Canucks," he said. "Our strongest young skiers are in the giant slalom, followed by Super G competitors, downhillers and slalom racers. We have a combination of young and experienced skiers, which is a good thing. Among the men, it is Thomas Grandi, who is breaking into the world's top group. Among the women, it's Allison Forsyth, who is trying to come back after knee surgery.

"We expect good things from Stefan Guay, who could climb high in world rankings in the giant slalom and Super G. Then there is his older brother, Erik Guay, whose forte is the Super G and the downhill.

"Among the girls it is Shona Rubens, the youngest qualifier for the national team and Brigitte Acton, who is a former junior world champion."

It has taken four years to develop these skiers and it will take another four years before they can, hopefully, star at the Vancouver 2010Olympic Games at Whistler.

Naturally, four years of preparationscost a lot of money. So, I asked Read if the skiers receive sufficient support from the federal government to supplement monies fromthe private sector.

"We need $2 million-$3 million to take us to Vancouver," Read said. "The money we get from the current government is not new. Contributions from the private sector are helping towards the podium preparations, but won't cover all the expenses.

"For instance, the Austrians send their 13- and 14-year-olds to international events such as the Whistler Cup, but we can't afford to send our young ones. Rubens, who finished 19th in Turin, is not getting that kind of support."

Sports minister Michael Chong claims the government spends around $140 million on sports. I only hope that skiing is getting its share. Only then will we be able to talk about a new generation of Crazy Canucks.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

The late Celtic music ambassador, John Allen Cameron, was also a keen sportsman. He used to play in Don Goodwin's annual clebrity tennis tournament at Manitouwabing, played shinny with several NHL oldtimers and was a great Maple Leafs fan. His funeral is tomorrow morning in Pickering ... Speaking of sports casualties, Bill Stephenson, once the golden tonsils of CFRB, is recovering well following surgery ... Former Australian swimming great Shane Gould, who won three gold, one silver and one bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics, turned 50 last week ... Contributions continue to flow in to the Sun's Variety Village Christmas Fund. Latest donors include Marina and Dennis Moir($150), Mary Bobinac of Toronto ($150); COC chief Chris Rudge ($100); Don MacDonald of Mississauga ($100); Gerry Sparling of West Hill ($100); Leonard Bednarz of North York and Gord Maunder of Scarborough, each $50.

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