Alpine Skiing

Chris Iorfida - Tuesday Feb. 11, 2014 03:18 ET

Larisa Yurkiw ready to fulfill hard-earned downhill dream

Canadian did it her way en route to Sochi

Larisa Yurkiw, seen training for the downhill in Sochi.
Larisa Yurkiw, seen training for the downhill, is the only Canadian in Wednesday's race. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Larisa Yurkiw believed she should compete with the best in the world in the Olympics, and she’ll get that chance Wednesday in the women’s downhill at Rosa Khutor.

When the best Canadian women's speed racers from the 2010 Winter Olympics soon retired and Yurkiw endured injury woes with after effects that extended into years, official Alpine Canada funding dried up. The dollars were targeted at the emerging women on the team, all technical specialists.

Yurkiw poured tens of thousands of her own dollars into a bid to make the Sochi Olympics, and raised more than six figures from private individuals and businesses to back her quest.

Racing as an independent under coach Kurt Mayr, Yurkiw earned Tier 1 qualification for Sochi with a pair of top 12 results this season, a seventh-place finish in the season-opening downhill in Lake Louise, Alta., and a sixth place at Altenmarkt, Austria last month.

The Owen Sound, Ont., native was aiming to compete at the Vancouver Games but tore up her left knee in a crash in December 2009.

Yurkiw didn’t participate in a full season again until 2012-13, but didn’t crack the top 20 in any races, which put her at a career crossroads at just 25 years of age.

In what seemed like another cruel blow after all her hard work, Yurkiw went down in a training run in Sochi last week. But she recovered to post the ninth fastest time in the last training session.

The contenders

There won’t be a repeat Olympic downhill champion as American ski star Lindsey Vonn of the United States underwent knee surgery, but 2010 silver medallist Julia Mancuso and bronze recipient Liz Goergl are competing in Russia.

Both are capable of getting back to the podium. Mancuso hasn’t enjoyed great World Cup results this season, but now owns four career Olympic medals after earning a bronze in Monday’s super-combined.

The Hawaiian resident did so on the strength of a downhill that was nearly a half-second faster than the next best skier, Lara Gut of Switzerland.

Goergl’s two World Cup wins this season (one downhill, one super-G) have come in the last month, while Gut, Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden of Austria and Slovenia’s Tina Maze also own downhill wins this season.

Maria Hoefl-Riesch, with three, is the only skier with multiple downhill wins this season. The German veteran would have to be considered co-favourite along with Mancuso for the downhill, after winning her third career Olympic gold medal in Monday’s super-combined. She is also the overall World Cup points leader.

Dominique Gisin of Switzerland hasn’t been on the World Cup podium since late 2011, but served notice she could be a factor with a winning training session earlier this week.

Anna Wenninger of Austria and Elena Fanchin of Italy are also contender, each having been on the World Cup podium twice in downhill this season, though not yet in the top spot.

Tina Weirather, who has four downhill podium results this season, has pulled out of Wednesday's race due to a deep bone bruise on her leg suffered in a training session last weekend.

The skier from tiny Liechtenstein, who suffered a serious injury that put her out of the 2010 Olympics just days before the Vancouver event, said it was also unlikely she'd be ready for Saturday's super-G. 

Weirather expressed her frustration in a Facebook post, saying she felt "so freakin ready" to excel in Sochi before the mishap.

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