If the sheer come-from-behind determination has a face among the Canadian athletes at the Sochi Olympics, it belongs to Larisa Yurkiw.
In 2009, the alpine skier from Owen Sound, Ont., who had won silver in the 2008 FIS Junior World Ski Championships, destroyed her left knee. The injury that kept her out of competition for two years, ensuring she was a no-show at the Vancouver Olympics.
If that weren’t pain enough, she was dropped from the Canadian alpine ski team last year.
On Thursday, she was doing a training run on the downhill course at the Sochi Olympics. Against all odds, Yurkiw is back on the Canadian team and aiming high. Her goal? “A medal,” she says. “No one remembers fourth.”
Yurkiw simply refused to give up after the Canadian team told her, with regrets, that they couldn’t afford to fund her. In April of last year, she founded Team Larisa Racing to keep herself in the game as a solo act. With coach Kurt Mayr at her side, she raised $150,000 from sponsors, including Starlight Investment, the Georgian Peaks Club, Rossignol and the Buduchnist Credit Union in Toronto, which caters to Ukrainian Canadians.
Mayr rebuilt her confidence and pretty much took over her life, right down to the smallest details.
“I didn’t even know the price of a ski pass,” Yurkiw says. “I had never bought one before. All of those things cam out of our budget.”
The funding, the coaching and a fully operational knee conspired in her favour. In early December at Lake Louise, she posted her career-best world cup downhill result with a seventh. In mid-January, she improved with a sixth-place finish at Altenmarkt, Austria. That was enough to land her back on the Canadian team, just in time for Sochi.
It was a mad scramble to get prepared for the Olympics. At one point, it appeared that Mayr would not be able so secure a visa. He got one in record time.
Yurkiw is competing in the downhill, Super G and combined events at Sochi and expects her best result to come in the downhill. She says she likes the downhill course, feels good and will give it everything she’s got on race day next week. But even if she does not win the medal she seeks, she will know that just making it to Sochi after such a string of horrific setbacks is victory itself.
“It’s a huge honour to be here,” she says. “I’m thrilled.”