Canada's slalom, GS skiers look to bounce back
New coaches, positive attitude as World Cup season begins
Canadian skiers will look to put the disappointments and injuries of the last several months behind them as the first men’s slalom of the World Cup season gets underway on Sunday, in Levi, Finland.
Veterans Mike Janyk, Julien Cousineau and Brad Spence have often competed in the technical events of slalom and giant slalom in the shadow of their downhill and super-G racing teammates Erik Guay, John Kucera and Manny Osborne-Paradis.
Cousineau admits the speed racers have been “kind of been keeping us going, but I think it’s time we stepped up and had some podiums.”
That kind of desire is undoubtedly music to the ears of Martin Rufener, hired in March by Alpine Canada as alpine director. Rufener, who guided the Swiss team to many successes in recent years, wants the Canadian team to have long-term stability and depth in all disciplines.
To help with that goal, Massimo Carca was brought in to to lead the men’s alpine technical team. For the past decade Carca guided the impressive Christian Innerhofer, among others, for Italy.
Janyk, of Whistler, B.C., has racked up 27 career top 10 finishes, but none of them occurred in the 2012-13 season. It was a different season for the 31-year-old off the course as well, with older sister Brit in her first year of retirement.
Janyk is eager to bounce back in this Olympic season.
“Really the only place here to go is up,” he said. “And it's up to us to how much we want to, and how much we're willing to go after our goals and our dreams of being the best in the world.”
For Cousineau and Spence, there has been much physical and mental rehabilitation in recent years.
Cousineau described last season as the toughest of the career, as he worked his way back from a serious knee injury in January 2012. Then there was a life change at home, with a teething and sleep-challenged baby boy to help nurture. Benjamin was a week old before the proud father was first able to hold him.
The Lachute, Que., native will be 33 by the time Sochi rolls around, and has made no bones about wanting to land on the podium in what will likely be his last Olympic experience. It’s not an outlandish goal, given that he was eighth at the Vancouver Games, the best-ever Olympic slalom performance by a Canadian man.
Spence had a bitter ending to his most successful season in 2011-12, suffering a knee injury in March. He came back to competitive skiing in January 2013, but was obviously more focused on just getting comfortable again more than results.
All told, Spence has spent nearly half of the last eight years rehabilitating or waiting for injuries to heal. Most severe was a 2005 injury with after-effects that lingered for years, as he broke his tibia, fibula and tore the major ligaments in his right knee.
Younger racers inspire
Rufener was encouraged by Spence’s progress at the team’s late summer camp in South America.
“He improved a lot, the confidence is coming back, and also the strength,” Rufener said.
Confidence is key for Spence, who cops to at times being “the type of guy that would stew on something for too long.”
Also racing on Sunday in Finland are Phil Brown of Toronto and Paul Stutz of Banff, Alta.
Janyk said the pair, as well as those who ski on the Nor-Am circuit and aren’t racing Sunday, have helped push the veteran guys.
The 22-year-old Brown won the 2012-13 Nor-Am Cup giant slalom title, then “shocked the world,” as CBC skiing analyst Kerrin-Lee Gartner put it, as Canada narrowly lost out on a bronze medal in the team competition at the world championships in February.
“[Brown] is really well-rounded, in great shape, and he actually beat the German, Fritz Dopfer,” said Gartner, referring to a skier who has three World Cup podiums to his credit.
Internationally, slalom has been a wide open affair. There have been eight different winners of the World Cup slalom title in as many years.
Last year’s winner might be the best of the bunch. Marcel Hirscher of Austria won the discipline title en route to his second overall World Cup Crystal Globe.
“He's a true innovator in our sport,” said Janyk. “These young guys that come up, yeah they have that fire, they have that energy of youth, but he really has a no-fear approach.”
As with most disciplines, a mix of young and veteran skiers internationally also have the potential to contend for the slalom title. That list includes Croatian veteran Ivica Kostelic, emerging star Alexis Pinturault of France, and the consistent Felix Neureuther of Germany.