11/30/2013 06:33 EST | Updated 01/30/2014 05:59 EST

Italy's Paris wins Lake Louise World Cup downhill, Guay earns Olympic berth

LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - Erik Guay took an important step towards the 2014 Winter Olympics on Saturday.

The man who has come the closest to ending Canada's Olympic medal drought in men's skiing effectively booked his ticket to Sochi, Russia, in February.

The 32-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., finished eighth in the season-opening World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Alta. That qualifies him for his third Winter Games.

"It's a good thing to get it out of the way," Guay said.

Dominik Paris of Italy won Saturday's race with Klaus Kroell of Austria coming second and Adrien Theaux of France third. Guay finished 1.08 seconds back of Paris, whose World Cup victory was the third of his career but first in Lake Louise.

"I pushed very hard at the top and the middle section was very bumpy, so it was difficult to ski very good," Paris said. "I tried to go fast and strike the line down. At the finish, I skied very good."

The men race a super-G on Sunday before heading to Beaver Creek, Colo., and the second stop on the circuit this season.

Canada's last Olympic medal in skiing was Edi Podivinsky's downhill bronze in 1994.

Guay was fifth in both the downhill and super-G at the 2010 Winter Olympics and was fourth in super-G in 2006. He was just .03 seconds away from the super-G podium in 2010.

The 2011 world downhill champion has been a consistent medal producer for Canada. At 19 World Cup career medals, Guay is one away from tying the all-time record held by Steve Podborski.

So the Olympic qualification criteria of a pair of top-12 results or one top-five finish wasn't onerous for Guay to achieve. He was one of four Canadian men racing at Lake Louise who were already halfway to qualifying. Each had a top-12 they could carry over from 2012-13.

But Guay was short on preparation for Lake Louise. Knee surgery in July kept him off snow until earlier this month. He was fastest in the first training run for Lake Louise, but dropped to 26th in the last training session.

"I think it's an absolutely respectable start to the season," Guay said. "A month ago I didn't even know if I was going to be able to race here.

"Winning the training run threw a wrench into things because it sets your standards a little bit higher, but all things considered I'm very satisfied with the day."

Canada can enter a maximum of four men in downhill and super-G in Sochi. Slalom specialist Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., is the only Canadian woman to have qualified for the Olympic ski team so far.

Calgary's Jan Hudec, Vancouver's Manny Osborne-Paradis and Ben Thomsen of Whistler, B.C., were still looking for another top-12 to book their ticket to Sochi.

Hudec was 22nd, Osborne-Paradis finished 28th and Thomsen placed 44th on Saturday. Snow flurries overnight meant the first few men down the hill — Osborne-Paradis had the No. 4 start bib — had to find speed in softer conditions.

Visibility changed quickly from dim to bright and back to dim again for the first 30 men down the mountain.

"I had good light," Kroell said. "In some places, it was in the sun. It's always the same in Lake Louise. Wednesday to Saturday, it always changes a little bit the light and the wind.

"One time you're the lucky one and another you're not. Today, I think I was one of the lucky ones."

Hudec, a downhill winner at Lake Louise in 2007, has undergone seven knee surgeries in his career and this is his first healthy start to a season in years.

"That's probably why I'm frustrated because I feel a lot better now than I did last year," Hudec said. "I know I have what it takes to get in there.

"Tomorrow it's like a total regroup. Super-G is a different game, different race. Hopefully I'll have a better start number tomorrow and better weather and go for it."

Conrad Pridy of Whistler was 32nd, Jeffrey Frisch of Mont-Tremblant, Que., placed 35th and Conrad's brother Morgan finished 45th.