If there was one skier who in was an extremely bad mood on Sunday, it wasn’t Bode Miller or Aksel Lund Svindal, the runaway favourites going into the downhill race. It was Erik Guay, the most successful Canadian male skier since the “Crazy Canuck” era thirty years ago.
Guay has landed on the world cup podium 21 times, a record for a Canadian. He has missed Olympic medals by blink-of-the eye margins several times and came to the Sochi Olympics with one goal: Win a medal of any colour, end of story.
On Sunday in the downhill, the Olympics’ marquee alpine event, he placed 10th, well off his goal. That means he has only one more chance for a podium finish – in the super G on Sunday. If he blows that one, Guay can probably forget about competing for an Olympic medal ever again.
He is 32 and old men do not reach the podium at the Olympics, as Miller of the United States found out in the same race. Miller is 36, two years older than the oldest Olympian ever to win an alpine medal. It was a 23-year-old from Austria, Matthias Mayer, who took gold in the downhill, with Christof Innerhofer of Italy winning silver and Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud taking bronze.
“Erik would be disappointed by anything but a medal,” said Kerrin Lee-Gartner, whose win in the downhill in the Albertville Olympics in 1992 made her the last Canadian to take Olympic gold. “It’s also a disappointment for Alpine Canada.”
No Canadian, in fact, has won an Olympic speed-skiing medal since Ed Podivinsky picked up a bronze in the downhill in Lillehammer in 1994. Guay was supposed to end the drought. His world cup downhill win in Val Gardena, Italy, just before Christmas showed he had ample potential to do so.
Guay was careful to smile after Sunday’s race but there is no doubt he was close to shattered. Starting second, when the otherwise decaying snow at the Rosa Khutor Olympic alpine centre was at its best, his to-of-the-hill performance was good to great. He lost time in the wide turns in the middle, which is odd, because those sorts of turns are his strength.
Guay explained that he found himself getting “impatient [on some turns], dipping inside and losing that outside ski just a tad. That translates into tenths of a second on every turn and that builds up.”
So why was he slow in those turns? He cites at least in part the light, which “got extremely flat in the middle of the course.”
He made a couple of mistakes, but they were minor. “I could have cleaned [them] up, but even then I don’t think it would have been a winning run even without those mistakes,” he said. “I think there’s a little something missing in my skiing that I need to pick up.”
Overall, the Canadians’ performance was mediocre at best. Benjamin Thomsen churned out the second-best result, after Guay, with a 19th place finish. Jan Hudec came 21st and Manny Osborne-Paradis was 25th among the 47 men who completed the race.
Hudec, however, showed good form even if he did not blow away the competition. “I like his potential in the super G,” Lee-Gartner said.
Guay has one week left before the all-or-nothing race that will almost certainly end his Olympic career, if not his world cup bids (he says he has no intention of retiring after Sochi). The challenge is to overcome the pressure of facing that one last effort to reach the podium.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “I’m a veteran and I’ve been through this before. Give me a couple of hours and I’ll snap out of it and refocus. I think I have a good chance in the super G.”