First there’s history.
Then there are tears.
Then there’s the expectation, the belief that lightning can strike again.
The history is that Erin Mielzynski, 21, of Guelph, Ont., shattered a 41-year drought for Canadian women in World Cup slalom by sliding through mushy conditions to win the two-run contest at Ofterschwang, Germany, Sunday.
Mielzynski, a one-time star of Canadian junior water skiing, became the first Canadian woman since Betsy Clifford in 1971 to win a World Cup slalom race. Mielzynski had a brilliant second run in deteriorating snow conditions to claim her first career World Cup victory and a breakthrough result for the young Canadian women’s technical team.
Her previous best World Cup results were two 13th-place finishes in slalom – in Courchevel, France, in December and Arber-Zwiesel, Germany, a year ago. She was fifth after the first run Sunday and found incredible speed in the soupy hill at the bottom of her second run.
Marie-Michèle Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was fifth overall, tying her career-best World Cup result. Her time of 1 minute 53.80 seconds was 0.21 second off the podium. Anna Goodman of Pointe-Claire, Que., was 17th for her fourth top-30 finish of the season.
Resi Stiegler of the United States was second by 0.05 second for her first World Cup podium, and Austrian ace Marlies Schild was third. Canadians who didn’t qualify for the second run were Brittany Phelan of Mont-Tremblant, Que., and Madison Irwin of Toronto.
“It wasn’t what we were expecting,” said Mielzynski, who had a two-run combined time of 1 minute 53.59 seconds in her 21st World Cup start. “When I was done, I was screaming. It was crazy, coming fifth in the first run. And then this? I can’t describe it.”
The product of the small Georgian Peaks Ski Club near Collingwood, Ont., added: “Europeans don’t know us. We’ve got an escarpment, not mountains, and it doesn’t take long to hike up.” Mielzynski has been part of the Canadian alpine ski team since 2008. She made her Olympic debut at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, finishing 20th in the slalom.
Seeing the sea of red and white at the bottom of the Whistler Olympic run had been her career highlight – until Sunday.
Then Mielzynski saw the tears in the eyes of teammates, who had lived and trained together and were known as a young squad, and in the eyes of her coach, Hugues Ansermoz.
“It was incredible,” Ansermoz said. “I’ve been with the Swiss team, but I don’t think I ever had the emotions of today.” He’d idly scrawled “Go for the win” the night before on top of his sheet of start times.
“He gave me that paper today,” Mielzynski said.
“The girls are all crying,” Ansermoz said. “It’s huge emotion for the whole team. At the beginning of the year we had a planning meeting and set some goals. We had put a podium as a goal. It was a long shot, but we thought it was possible. We had put the podium down for Ofterschwang, and when we came here, I had forgotten about it.”
Until Mielzynski came down the hill in first.
“I can’t tell you how important it was,” Mielzynski said. “We needed to win.”
Canada’s alpine women, hit by retirements of veterans Emily Brydon, Britt Janyk, Geneviève Simard and Allison Forsyth in recent seasons, had been a developing, but success starved, team, floundering in the middle of the pack. They’d been watching the results of the men’s alpine team, which was on the podium for four consecutive weeks in February.
“We’d been in their shadow,” Ansermoz said.
Ranked 13th in World Cup slalom, Mielzynski finished 16th in slalom at the 2011 world championship. She’s had six top-30 results in slalom in 2011-12.
“My goal for today was to race like I train every single day, just let everything go,” Mielzynski said. “Coming down with the green [leader’s] light on the second run, it took a few seconds for it to sink in. I stood in the [top finishers’]box and … it was crazy to see my name at the top of the standings.”
The last Canadian woman to finish in the top three in any discipline at a World Cup race was Brydon, third in downhill at Lake Louise, Alta., in 2009.
Gagnon says that with Mielzynski’s win, the ante has gone up for Canadian women in technical events. Now the ice has been broken, “and I was bawling in the finish,” Gagnon said. “I never thought fifth place would be under the radar, but I was so happy to see someone win.
“This is the best thing for the whole team. Erin has shown that if you put it out there, you can win. She’s the most professional athlete I’ve met in my career. She does everything it takes.”