World downhill champion Erik Guay and three-time World Cup winner Manuel Osborne-Paradis headline Canada’s 23-member alpine ski team for the Sochi Olympic season.
Seventeen men and six women that Alpine Canada believe have podium potential were named to the national squad Thursday.
All-rounder Marie-Michele Gagnon and slalom specialist Erin Mielzynski — the first Canadian since 1971 to win a World Cup slalom race — lead a young group of female technical racers.
Paul Kristofic, Alpine Canada’s vice-president of sports, said the athletes selected were a mix of those who had the potential to do well at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and a younger generation who are targeting 2018 and beyond.
“We want to put our best foot forward at the Olympics. We recognize how important it is for our athletes and our organization,” Kristofic said in a release. “We’ve come up short at the past two Games with fourth and fifth places and no one is satisfied with that. It’s very important that we win a medal.”
The men’s roster includes six “Canadian Cowboys” who have won World Cup or world championship medals.
Guay, from Mont-Tremblant, Que., had two fifth-place finishes at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and a fourth in 2006 in Turin, Italy, and goes into the season hoping to claim his first Olympic medal — one of the few prizes missing from a resume that includes a Crystal Globe in super-G in 2010. He also needs just one World Cup podium to tie Steve Podborski’s Canadian record of 20.
If Guay claims two or more top-three World Cup finishes this season he’ll become Canada’s most decorated male skier.
“Steve has obviously been a huge inspiration and it would mean a lot to me to have that record and hopefully add to the legacy of ski racing in Canada,” Guay said of Podborski, Canada’s chef de mission for the 2014 Olympics.
Guay said if he was “writing my own script” for Sochi, he would be gunning for gold.
“But I know what it takes to win on any given day,” he said. “It’s one thing to be competitive throughout a season. It’s another to be competitive in one race, where anybody in the top 15 could win. One mistake and I could be fifth place. Another mistake and I could be 12th place. There’s nothing cut and dried in our sport — far from it.”
Vancouver’s Osborne-Paradis and Calgary’s John Kucera, who both returned from injury last season, plus Jan Hudec of Calgary, have all won international medals.
Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., won silver at the Olympic test event in Sochi, while Mike Janyk of Whistler, B.C., is a world championship medallist who will lead Canada’s slalom team. Calgary’s Brad Spence and Whistler’s Robbie Dixon are coming back from injuries.
The men’s team also features six up-and-coming skiers in Dustin Cook of Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., Calgary’s Trevor Philp and Erik Read, Phil Brown of Toronto, Sasha Zaitsoff of Queens Bay, B.C. and Whistler brothers Conrad and Morgan Pridy.
Veterans Julien Cousineau of Lachute, Que., and Jeffrey Frisch, of Mont-Tremblant, who are battling back from injuries, have been given “invitee status” to train and compete as part of the Canadian team.
The women’s team includes World Cup regulars Gagnon, from Lac-Etchemin, Que., Mielzynski, from Guelph, Ont., Marie-Pier Prefontaine of Saint-Sauveur, Que., Mont-Tremblant’s Britt Phelan and Elli Terwiel, from Sun Peaks, B.C., as well as Toronto youngster Madison Irwin. Veteran speed skier Kelly VanderBeek retired last season, while super-G and downhill specialist Larisa Yurkiw was not selected.
Canada only has one World Cup spot for women’s downhill and that is likely to be used in several races by Gagnon, who is ranked fourth in the world in combined and is considered a serious medal threat in that discipline.
Gagnonis also ranked in the top 30 in slalom and giant slalom and 32nd in super-G.
The World Cup season kicks off in Solden, Austria, in October. It takes on added importance as racers will battle to qualify for Olympic nomination to the Canadian team. Canada has limited spots in each discipline, but general most skiers will be looking for two top-12 World Cup finishes or a top-five result. Some spots will be available for potential future medallists.
The nominees are expected to be named in January 2014.