On an Olympic hill where dreams will be made or crushed at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Ben Thomsen silenced the world’s naysayers, all in a wild, fearless swoop.
Of all courses to win your first World Cup medal, it came at a test event on Saturday, marking the first use of the course designed for downhill at the Games in Socchi, Russia. Thomsen, who faced being sent to the minors (the Nor-Am circuit) a few weeks ago because of lacklustre finishes, won a silver medal, missing out on gold by just 0.27 seconds.
He’s still in shock. He says it hasn’t hit home yet. He says his fifth place finish at Chamonix, France, the previous week has only now just caught up to him, emotionally.
Thomsen has delivered an incredible hot streak over the past few weeks, finishing 11th at a very competitive event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, then the fifth ranking. He’s had to climb up to the top by inches. Two summers ago, he worked construction and landscaping jobs to finance his dream. Manuel Osborne-Paradis helped finance a training camp.
When Thomsen headed to the rugged mountain near Sochi, he wasn’t met with a lot of believers.
During the inspection before the first training run, Thomsen heard the comments: “He’s a one-time wonder,” “He’s going to choke,” and, “He’s a glider. He’ll never be good on this course.”
They were jokes, so they said, but it made Thomsen more nervous than he had ever been for a downhill, particularly after he had delivered three stellar training runs: third, eighth and sixth places. The pressure was on, to be good all the time, to upend the doubters.
With all the candour of an athlete who hasn’t known what it’s like to be in a leader box, Thomsen said of the comments: “Well, I was thinking the exact same thing in my head before they even said it.”
How did he deal with those nerves that went with him right into the starting blocks? “I just ignored them,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen said he turned the jokes into a challenge. “I thought: You know what? I’ll show you guys. I’ll show you a one-time wonder.”
He made it work for him. It will be just the mindset he needs for the Sochi Olympics. And now he’s establishing himself as a contender.
On Saturday, his mentor, Osborne-Paradis, out with injury, tweeted him: “Dude. It is awesome to watch you crack out of your shell into this amazing downhiller. It’s impressive.”
At the finish line, Thomsen heard world downhill champion Erik Guay (20th on Saturday) say things he never thought he’d ever say about him. “It’s so amazing to hear this from a world champion,” Thomsen said. “Hearing stuff like that from those guys that are in my eyes much better than me. Today, I was better than Erik, but that is just one race. He has a whole career. It’s very inspiring hearing the veterans talk that way about you.”
As for Guay, he said he just couldn’t get set up right for the course that was so icy at the top that Thomsen said: “You could have grabbed your hockey skates and go right down with the puck.”
Guay couldn’t figure out how to ski it. “I think it’s more heart than anything,” Guay said of Thomsen. “He wants it. He wants it more than most people.”
The effort has made Thomsen a member of the Canadian Cowboys, those alpine skiers who clamber onto podiums. With it, comes a special belt buckle. Head coach Paul Kristofic, at home nursing a knee injury, said he’s breaking open the safe, and contacting the engravers.
Thomsen is now on his way.