They are calling it the "Didier Cuche Project," and if all goes as planned, then Erik Guay will be standing on the Olympic podium at the 2014 Sochi Games, having completed a career hat trick.
Guay, the reigning alpine world downhill champion, turned 30 this summer, but rather than resting on his laurels and playing out the remainder of his career in his comfort zone, the Mont-Tremblant, Que., skier has decided to revamp his style and rebuild his body with an eye on the 2014 Olympics. Guay invoked the name of Cuche, the Swiss skier who has had marvellous success in the past few years, winning back-to-back downhill championships and becoming the oldest racer to win a World Cup event when he triumphed at the famed Hahnenkamm course in Kitzbuhel last January.
Most of Cuche's success has come past age 30, leading Guay and Alpine Canada president Max Gartner to conclude that downhill racing is an old man's game.
"I'm trying to base myself on Cuche's career path," Guay said. "If you look back on him, before 30, he didn't have that great a career. He really came into his own after 30, and started getting consistent podiums and really went on a tear for the last seven years."
The transformation has been forced upon Guay. He underwent knee surgery in 2003, which led to insufficient hamstring strength in the repaired leg. That, in turn, shifted his pelvis out of whack and caused back problems that plagued him into this offseason.
Guay missed two camps, avoided the weight room, and lost 15 pounds to get down to 187 pounds. The lost time on the snow also meant he wasn't able to test new equipment, so he will stay with the setup that served him well last season, when he won the downhill world championship at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, but he freely admits that he has sacrificed whatever technical advances have been made in the months since his last race.
"I basically spent the whole summer trying to get my back in order," he said. "I think I took a step in the right direction, but it's going to take more than two months of work to reset more than five years of bad habits and bad movements.
"My expectations are pretty low, especially at the start of the season."
That doesn't bode well for the Canadian men's team this winter, although it got good news recently when John Kucera received medical clearance to resume racing after nearly two years of rehabilitation because of two broken legs. Still, Gartner praised Guay, saying it was a "remarkable and mature" decision to take the long-term view and not try to instantly seize on last year's success.
Guay said that the way his career was tracking, he wasn't even going to make it to 2014, let alone be competitive, because his body was breaking down. Now that he is lighter, Guay is hoping to make up for the lost mass with cleaner technical skiing.
"It's kind of like a golfer rebuilding his swing," Guay said. "I'm trying to move in a way that is going to be more efficient, and hopefully translate into a longer career."
He said this is the appropriate season for experimentation, because there are no Olympics and no world championships. Guay is not only a world champion, but he also won the crystal globe as the overall 2010 champion in Super G. At the Olympics, he has been agonizingly close with a fourth-place in Super G at the 2006 Games, and two fifth-place finishes at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler.
"I've always had three main goals in my career," Guay said. "One is a crystal globe, one is the world championships, and the other is the Olympic medal. Two of three are so far completed, and I want to focus my energy on 2014."