Erik Guay itching to test knee on the snow
Skier hopes to overcome injury in time for Sochi
Just call it another bump on the hill for the greatest Canadian skier of this generation.
It's been more than three months since Erik Guay was last on skis. He underwent knee surgery in the summer, after experiencing pain during training in Switzerland.
With the calendar now turned to November, Guay is heading back on the snow with Canadian teammates at a training camp in Vail, Colo., in what he hopes is the last rehab hurdle before competing on the World Cup circuit. The first downhill is scheduled for the final day of this month in Lake Louise, Alta., to be broadcast on CBC Sports.
It's not the ideal situation for Guay, 32. Though he's already accomplished two of his three big career goals, winning a World Cup title in 2010 in super-G and a world championship in 2011 in downhill, he has yet to step onto an Olympic podium.
"I'm not going to be exactly where I want to be," Guay admitted. "I won't have as much as ski testing done, not as much on-snow time down."
After 15 years on the national team, Guay has been around long enough not to get too rattled by the task that awaits.
"I have quite a bit experience on the World Cup tour," said Guay, who is from Mont Tremblant, Que.
"I'm banking on that and hope that it's going to be enough to get a few weeks of the season in and ramp it up towards the Olympics."
While some Canadian athletes are wary of speaking publicly about their Olympic ambitions, Guay is candid about his desire to win a medal. That goal, along with his wife and two little girls, motivates him during the tough cross-training sessions in the pool and on the bike to build leg strength.
"I want to win an Olympic medal," he said. "But I can tell you that, you know, beyond that, I certainly want to see the flag raised and I want to sing O Canada on top of the podium."
No significant damage
Guay's knee has plagued him since March. An MRI didn't reveal any significant damage, but the knee still bothered him when he attempted to train in May and again in the summer. Further testing revealed an injured femoral condyle (the bottom of the femur), including severe bruising of the bone and cartilage issues. Guay underwent microfracture surgery in late July, which involved drilling holes in the bone to help regenerate cartilage.
"Motivation's never been a challenge for me, but it's obviously tough to deal with recurring injuries," said Guay.
Injuries are nothing new for Guay. In 2003, he had a knee reconstruction after tearing ligaments, before his career took full flight. Less than three years later, pain in his right knee kept him out of the downhill competition at the 2006 Olympics in Torino; after a cortisone injection he managed a fourth-place showing in the super-G in poor conditions, finishing 1-10th of a second off the podium.
He had minor knee surgery in September 2012, which cut his training time by six weeks. But he reached the World Cup podium twice in 2012-13, including for the first time at Kitzbühel, in Austria.
Alpine Canada is looking on the bright side.
"He’s coming into the season definitely light on training days, but healthy, which is the most important part," said Paul Kristofic, Alpine Canada athletic director.
Even if he doesn't compete in all of the World Cup races in this season, the ultimate goal is not impossible given the time frame -- and Guay's pattern of success.
"Traditionally, when you look at Erik's career, he tends to peak later in the season," said Kerrin-Lee Gartner, who won the women's downhill at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville. "February has always been a really good time of the year for him.
Of Guay's 19 career podium finishes, 11 have occurred in February or March. The downhill at the Sochi Olympics is scheduled for Feb. 9; the super-G is one week later.
Guay came close to an Olympic medal in 2010, finishing fifth in both the downhill and super-G -- just milliseconds away from the podium. To do better in Sochi, Guay will have to follow the recovery process and build his confidence.
"There'll be be times in certain races where he realizes he doesn't have a chance to win, doesn't have it dialed in, [and] he's not going to risk it on that day," said Gartner, who also overcame knee injuries before winning gold at the 1992 Albertville Games.
"He knows which ones he wants to risk, and in that, it's real management."
Guay will try and do something similar as Gartner, dialing it up for the most important races.
If it's a choice between going all out for a World Cup podium, or a podium at Sochi, really, there figures to be no choice at all.