All around the world, Canada’s winter athletes had the Midas touch over the weekend, dominating events on snow and ice.
Perhaps no effort was as remarkable as the showing by Canada’s alpine downhill skiers on Saturday on a mountain in Chamonix, France. Three Canadian men started the event. All three finished in the top five, with Jan Hudec of Calgary winning his first gold medal since November of 2007.
World downhill champion Eric Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que. won the bronze medal while Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., started 50th, in poor light conditions, and hurtled down the course to finish in fifth spot.
“It’s rare for a country that doesn’t field a really big team … to have only three guys starting and all three in the top five is amazing,” men’s head coach Paul Kristofics said. “These things don’t come around very often.”
Hudec, 30, having endured six knee surgeries and a debilitating back problem, said he knew he had a small window of time to get his career back in focus. He woke up without pain for the first time on Saturday and said he could smell a win coming. He never stopped believing he could make it back.
“I think we blew everybody out of the water,” Hudec said. “It was against the odds, but I think we’ve done everything in our power to put ourselves in that position.”
It was the first time since 2007 that Canada had two men on the podium in a World Cup alpine skiing event. And Canada’s winter athletes don’t appear to be slowing down, despite the shadow that usually follows a concerted effort at a home Winter Olympics, according to Ken Read, a former alpine skier who is Own the Podium’s winter director.
Read said OTP was able to continue the financing of the athletes, and didn’t endure any massive cuts in March of 2010.
Now, Read said, we’re also seeing performances that didn’t happen at the Games “because there wasn’t enough time” – particularly for sports that take longer to develop, such as cross-country skiing.
Short-track speed skating
Canadian men swept the podium in the 500-metre event at a World Cup event in Moscow and also won the hotly contested men’s relay on Sunday.
Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., won the gold medal while Liam McFarlane of Medicine Hat took the silver for his first World Cup medal. Veteran Charles Hamelin won bronze after falling in the final.
The men won the relay over a constant nemesis, South Korea.
Devon Kershaw of Sudbury illustrated Read’s point. Canadians won no medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver although they were painfully close, but in a 15-kilometre mass start on Saturday Kershaw became the second Canadian to win a World Cup event. Pierre Harvey did it first in 1988.
Kershaw’s win marked his first distance skate-ski victory. He has now won medals in every discipline and at every distance.
Canadian cross-country skiers have finished in the top five in every World Cup this season.
Veteran Lyndon Rush of Humboldt, Sask., capped a gold rush for bobsleigh and skeleton racers at a World Cup met at the Whistler Sliding Centre. After winning gold in the two-man bobsleigh with partner Jesse Lumsden, the former CFL player who now plies the brakes on the Canada 1 sled, Rush also took bronze in the four-man event on Saturday.
Lumsden, who was in both sleds, started the sport in 2009, and his two-man effort was his first win in the sport. The effort in the four-man was significant because the Canadians hadn’t been in the mix all season. Aside from Rush, the team is entirely different from the Vancouver Olympic crew that won bronze.
The four-man team includes Rush, Lumsden of Burlington, Ont., Cody Sorensen of Ottawa and Neville Wright of Burlington, Ont.
The crew delivered the fastest push (4.74 seconds) in the second run. “This is huge for us,” Lumsden said.
Last week, Canada also won gold in women’s skeleton and gold and bronze in women’s bobsleigh.
Mikael Kingsbury, the World Cup leader in moguls, finally had his winning streak snapped at six when he finished second at a World Cup gathering in Deer Valley, Utah, late Saturday.
Kingsbury had equalled the record for six consecutive victories when he won a moguls event last Thursday. But on Saturday he faced a new format for the dual moguls – 32 skiers returned for finals instead of 16, necessitating an extra run – on the longest, most difficult course in the world, at high altitude (7,000 feet above sea level), in temperatures of -15.
Kingsbury got off to a bad start with a mistake in qualifying, in which he finished eighth and despaired of winning any medal. He said he was happy to win the silver medal behind Russian Sergei Volkov.
“For a 19-year-old kid to stay as composed as he has this year and week after week and run after run and to come through with the consistency and mental tenacity that he has is pretty significant,” freestyle head coach Peter Judge said.
Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal won a silver medal in the women’s moguls, but came the closest she has to defeating Olympic champion Hannah Kearney of the United States. Kearney won her 14th consecutive World Cup gold on Saturday, but Dufour-Lapointe, just 17, actually finished the course faster. Kearney won on points.
“It was very debatable,” Judge said. “It could have gone either way.”