Erik Guay knew he was skiing well in training, but could he tame the savage beast on race day? Could he become the first Canadian in 22 years to reach the medal podium on the World Cup's most prestigious and hazardous downhill ski course?
On the famed Hahnenkamm mountain in Kitzbuhel, Austria, Guay turned in his best strong showing of the season Saturday to finish second, a mere 13/100ths of a second behind the winner, Dominik Paris of Italy.
Guay, the defending world champion downhiller, had a good start to the race and figured a "little hesitation" coming off the last jump cost him the necessary time to finish atop the medal podium. Still, it was Canada's best showing at what's hailed as the Super Bowl of ski racing since 1991, when Rob Boyd placed third, Thirty years ago, Todd Brooker capped a four-year span of Canadian victories in the Austrian Alps . (Ken Read won it in 1980 with Steve Podborski winning in 1981 and 1982.)
"If ever there's a place you want to podium, it's Kitzbühel," said the 31-year-old Guay, from Mont-Tremblant, Que. "I'm definitely pumped with the day. I stepped up where I needed to. Now I'm really excited for Schladming (and the 2013 world alpine championships)."
Guay has been skiing well this season, finishing in the top 15 in all but one race. He had a third-place finish in the downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, last month. He also posted a fifth-place finish in Friday's super-G in Kitzbühel.
"I executed really well. I skied really well," said Guay, who posted a time of one minute, 57.69 seconds in the downhill. "I have to thank the coaches because I think we had a great game plan coming in here."
Aside from Guay, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, of Vancouver, B.C., was 10th in the downhill after starting 40th , while Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., was 17th and Jan Hudec, of Calgary, Alta., was 18th .
"This is what we needed to do to start comparing ourselves to the Crazy Canucks," said Osborne-Paradis of the Canadian alpine team of the 1970s and 1980s. "Our goal is to be one of the best teams ever in Canada but we still have a long way to go."
Guay said the placings in Kitzbuhel were an encouraging sign heading into next month's world championships.
"It's a big result. I've always been an advocate of having a small, focused World Cup team, and this is a testament to how it works," Guay explained, We have four guys who are legitimate shots (in the downhill)."