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Canada's downhillers kick off race to Sochi in Lake Louise World Cup

11/22/2013 07:39 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST
CALGARY - The internal competition to be a 2014 Olympian starts in Lake Louise, Alta., for Canada's men's downhill ski team.

The Canadian team opens the World Cup season at the Alberta resort next week with roster depth, albeit some of it surgically repaired.

The men race the first downhill of the season Nov. 30 followed by a super-G the following day.

Canada will have eight men competing in training races at Lake Louise for seven spots in that World Cup.

Considering Canada can take only four men to compete in the speed disciplines at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in February, Canadian coach Martin Huefner says the racers had better get used to having to beat a teammates to wear the Maple Leaf.

"The pressure is on anyway," Huefner said Friday in Calgary. "You want to be at the Olympics? You want to show before you should be on that starting list in downhill or super-G."

Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., Vancouver's Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Calgary's Jan Hudec and Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., have each met half of the criteria to punch their tickets to Sochi.

Each posted a top-12 result during the 2012-13 World Cup season and need another this season to secure a berth. The rest of the Canadians need to finish in the top dozen twice this season or in the top five once to meet the criteria.

"We have some young guys coming up who are pushing really hard and it's going to be a fight," Thomsen said. "We've got guys coming back from injury, World Cup champions coming back from injury. They're going to fight for a spot. It's whoever gets down the hill fastest. I hopes it's me."

Robbie Dixon of Whistler, B.C., is back after breaking two bones in his leg during a warmup race for Lake Louise a year ago. The brothers Morgan and Conrad Pridy of Whistler, B.C., and Jeffrey Frisch of Mont-Tremblant, Que., will also vy for the chance to race at Lake Louise.

Calgary's John Kucera, the 2009 world downhill champion, is currently dealing with vestibular neuritis, an inner-ear condition with vertigo and nausea its symptoms. Kucera will not race in Lake Louise.

Guay, the 2011 world downhill champion, had surgery on his knee in July. His first snow training of the off-season was last week in Colorado.

"I think things are progressing well," said Guay. "I feel relatively healthy heading into the season. For sure, I need to catch up a little bit to the pace of the World Cup, but that will come."

"Just start the season healthy is my number one priority and build from there. For me, the important month is going to be January heading into February and the Olympics. And the Olympics, of course, is the highlight."

Guay won the overall World Cup super-G crown in 2010. He was fourth in the 2006 Olympics and was fifth twice in 2010. With 19 World Cup medals, the 32-year-old is one shy of the record held by Steve Podborski, who will be Canada's chef de mission in Sochi.

Both Osborne-Paradis and Kucera spent the 2012-13 season getting their race brains and legs back after catastrophic knee injuries — Kucera at Lake Louise in 2009 and Osborne-Paradis in Chamonix, France in 2011.

Osborne-Paradis was fourth in the penultimate World Cup downhill of last season.

"At the end of the year, I found it for sure," Osborne-Paradis said. "It was figuring out where to take risks and how to assess risks. The trick is figuring out how to get it again this week, right away."

Despite seven knee surgeries during his career, Hudec has been a consistent top-10 finisher on the World Cup. Kucera (2006), Hudec (2007) and Osborne-Paradis (2009) have all won at Lake Louise.

Kucera's situation is confounding in that he went to bed with a head cold during a September training camp in Chile and woke up with the room spinning. In a sport that relies on computing and reacting to visual cues at high speeds, dizziness and vertigo is dangerous.

"This one is frustrating because you have a concussion or you break your leg doing something and that's a risk as an athlete," Kucera said. "I literally went to bed feeling great and woke up and had this. It's one of those things that's frustrating in that regard."

The worst of the symptoms have passed, but as with a concussion, Kucera must wait until he's symptom free before he attempts racing.

"I can go out and still free ski. I might feel a little wonky at the end of the day, but it's pretty controlled," Kucera said. "But to strap on the downhill skis and throw myself down a course with so many different things thrown at me, it wouldn't be possible for me to do it safely or effectively."

The Canadian men unveiled their Olympic racing suit at Canada's Sports Hall of Fame on Friday. The Hall unveiled an exhibit honouring the "Canadian Cowboys" on the team that have won World Cup and world championship ski medals in recent years.

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