Ski Canucks cowboy up

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

LAKE LOUISE -- For those who haven't paid attention to Canadian alpine ski racing since Ken Read had dark hair, Erik Guay has a message.

Make that an addendum to the message his team sent with another brilliant performance yesterday.

"Right now, our men's downhill team is second in the world, just behind Austria," said Guay, minutes after finishing six 1/100ths off the podium with a fifth-place finish in yesterday's Bombardier Lake Louise Winterstart Super G.

"Today, we had three guys in the top eight -- that's better than any other nation. We had some training in the summer with the Austrians in Chile, where we were consistently ahead of them, so it's not a surprise. But it's nice to confirm the training by beating them on race day."

Wrapping up a season-opening weekend kick-started by Jan Hudec's stunning win in Saturday's downhill, the newly minted 'Canadian Cowboys' placed three within a quarter-second of the podium yesterday. This comes one year after John Kucera and Manny Osborne-Paradis won gold and silver here to catapult Canada back onto a ski scene it had disappeared from for more than a decade.

"After the Crazy Canucks, we kind of fell off, but the Canadian Cowboys are coming. We're a young group that's exciting to watch," said Calgary's Kucera, who followed Saturday's 10th-place finish with a seventh yesterday. "We had an awesome crowd up here. We're starting to grow as a sport. And we're excited about that.

"We're not gunning for top 15s any more -- we're shooting for the podium, now. We have so many guys who can win, now -- that's what's going to make us a real threat."

And that, in essence, is the difference between this crew and those of years past. While high-fives were exchanged by the tight-knit teammates following Hudec's eighth-place finish late yesterday, there is a tinge of disappointment nobody made the podium.

"True, and that's a good healthy place to be," said Hudec, 26, whose top-10 finish came despite an unfavorable start bib of 27. "Just because guys are younger or starting at the back, it doesn't mean we shouldn't have a chance at getting on the podium. As you can see, all the guys are capable of doing it, so we set the bar high."

Last season, the men's team picked up a Canadian record 12 World Cup podiums, which has resulted in increased corporate sponsorship and bigger crowds ringing cowbells and waving flags at the base of the hill. Momentum is certainly growing -- not just because of the 2010 Vancouver Games but because this team is worthy of being compared to the Austrians, who have long been the sport's gold standard.

"We get to a point where guys want to win races, and if we're not there, we're not satisfied," said Alpine Canada's Chief Athletics Officer, Max Gartner. "What I like is we have so many guys who can win on any given day. We have a pretty exciting team, and they're still pretty young."

Guay's disappointment hammered home that point.

"Fifth place might have been good for me a couple years ago, but now I want to be on the podium," said the 26-year-old Guay. "Especially after Jan won (Saturday).

"I wanted to be there again to prove Canada is back."


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