Canada's Gagnon has lofty alpine aspirations
By SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency
|Marie-Michele Gagnon of Canada skis in the first run of the women's World Cup slalom in Aspen, Colorado November 27, 2011. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)
Timing is everything for the best skiers in the world.
If Marie-Michelle Gagnon times it right, she’s hoping to be a medal contender by the time Sochi 2014 rolls around.
The Lac-Etchemin, Que. native burst onto the World Cup scene in the slalom events last season, posting a fifth-place giant slalom finish in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in December, followed by a seventh-place finish in the slalom at Arber-Zwiesel, Germany, in February.
If 2010-11 was her coming out party, this season is about continuing that momentum.
“Last year was a really good year, but at the same time, I was missing that consistency,” Gagnon said this week as she prepared for Sunday’s super-G at Lake Louise. “I had probably six or seven top-15s, but other than that, I was often in the 20s and that’s something I want to change.
“Now, I feel more consistent, especially in slalom and GS, so hopefully I’m going to get out of the 20s.”
Gagnon is unique in the sense that she’s one of the most versatile skiers on the World Cup circuit, with her forte being the technical events, but she’ll dabble in the super-G and possibly even the downhill at some point this season.
“I’m not really focusing on the speed events, it’s more the (slalom and giant slalom) for me,” Gagnon said. “Most of the skiers nowadays are either tech skiers or speed skiers.
“It’s actually pretty rare to see someone like me doing all the events. There’s the Lindsey Vonns, but there’s only a few girls doing that because you want to reach the top-10s in the disciplines you’re good at before you start spreading out.”
Making her first start of the season last week in Aspen, Colo., Gagnon finished 11th in her best event, the slalom.
She plans to continue with the busy schedule for the foreseeable future.
“Definitely what I’m doing now, but at a higher level — top 15 in all the events and competing for medals and podiums every race,” Gagnon said. “Right now, I have goals, but they’ll probably change as the seasons go by and how I improve.”
After finishing 21st in the giant slalom and 31st in the slalom at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Gagnon’s work ethic is what will carry her, said women’s alpine ski team coach Hugues Ansermoz.
“It’s the drive,” Ansermoz said. “She really is driven and is one of the most professional athletes I’ve ever met and worked with. She works really hard, first of all, but she really doesn’t leave any details out.
“She’s the first one to analyze what went wrong and correct it for the next race.”
The combination of passion and talent are unique.
“I’ve always been competitive. I love competition and I love winning,” Gagnon said. “I love the process of getting there. Getting better and seeing the results and working hard. Being an athlete is the best job in the world.”
Madison McLeish, of Whistler, B.C., is also scheduled to compete in Sunday’s super-G at Lake Louise.
Sarah Freeman of Pincher Creek, Tess Davies of Canmore, Julia Roth of Waterloo, Ont., and Sarah Elliot of Oyama, B.C., are also expected to make their World Cup super-G debuts.