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Canada’s Gagnon draws inspiration from boyfriend’s run ahead of alpine Olympic debut

Canada's Marie-Michèle Gagnon jumps during a women's downhill training run for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Luca Bruno/The Associated Press

Canadian skier Marie-Michèle Gagnon had a good day Sunday and she wasn't even on the slopes at the Sochi Games. But her American boyfriend, Travis Ganong, was and he placed fifth in his debut Olympic race.

Ganong's surprisingly strong finish – he outdid Bode Miller – put Gagnon in an exceedingly good mood. "What a nice gift for our anniversary," she tweeted (they have been together six years).

Ganong likes his Quebec girlfriend's chances for a medal and told reporters that his performance in the downhill should provide her with "inspiration from today."

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It's unlikely she'll need it, for Gagnon has been on fire in the current World Cup season. She has emerged as Canada's strongest contender for an alpine medal at Sochi, even if Erik Guay should not be ruled out of contention after his disappointing 10th-place finish Sunday in the downhill.

The Levis, Que., native makes her Sochi debut Monday in the super combined event, which starts with the downhill in the morning, local time, and finishes with the slalom in the afternoon. She will also compete in the slalom, giant slalom and the super G, giving her plenty of chances for a podium finish (she is avoiding the downhill).

Gagnon proved she was an Olympic medal contender on Jan. 12 with her World Cup victory in the super combined at Altenmarkt, Austria, beating formidable rivals who included Austria's Michaela Kirchgasser and German Olympic champion Maria Hofl-Riesch. The win ended a 30-year medal drought for Canadian skiers in the combined events. She had been better known for her slalom skills, with three top-five slalom World Cup finishes earlier this season and a few decent finishes in the super G.

She has been competing since age 7 and uses an unusual training mix to keep in top physical shape. Her routine includes dance, gymnastics, boxing and roller-blading as well as the traditional weightlifting and gym workouts.

At 24, the ten-time Canadian champion seems to be pulling it all together at the right time. With her boyfriend's fine run on Sunday, she is going into her first race in a good mood.

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