Canada’s Julien Cousineau put the finishing touches on a long and difficult road back from injury in Sunday’s World Cup slalom qualifying for his first second run — and secured his first top-30 finish — since 2011.
The 32-year-old from Lachute, Que., attacked from the back to jump from 56th to ninth after the first run and then finish 18th overall, with his teammate Mike Janyk of Whistler, B.C., close behind him in 21st.
Cousineau’s standout performance represented a huge personal victory after two difficult years in which he first battled back from injury and then was unable to qualify for a second run in a World Cup race.
“It’s been a long time. It’s good for my head and it’s good for the team,” said Cousineau, who clocked a two-run combined time of one minute 46.30 seconds. “I just skied like I’ve been doing all summer and ended up with a great time.
“It’s fun to finally be able to show what I’ve been doing in training instead of just talking about it.”
Starting 56th on a course that was deteriorating as the race went on, Cousineau finished in the top 10 in his first run.
“I didn’t think it was that good. It felt rough and I was fighting all the way down,” Cousineau said of his first run. “When I crossed the line and saw the position I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was pretty excited. A lot of stress lifted with that.
“I haven’t made a second run since December 21 in 2011. I hurt my knee after that.”
Janyk needed a top-12 result to earn a spot at the Sochi Games, but struggled with a stomach bug.
“I was pretty green this morning,” said Janyk, who had a two-run combined time of 1:46.49 and was the second-fastest racer in the top section of the second run. “In my runs I had no power at the bottom.
“First run I was touch and go but made it down. Second run I found some energy. There were good top sections on both runs but for me personally it was a mixed bag.”
With Austrian superstar Marcel Hirscher failing to qualify for the second run, veteran Mario Matt, also of Austria, took the win in 1:44.59. Sweden’s Mattias Hargin was second (1:45.12) and Italy’s Patrick Thaler was third (1:45.37).
Calgary’s Brad Spence was 36th after the first run — less than four-tenths of a second out of qualifying for the second run — as he continues his comeback from a long-term injury. Toronto’s Phil Brown, and Paul Stutz, of Banff, Alta., did not finish their first runs. Stutz, in particular, looked set for a good race after he was 20th in the top split.