Reigning world downhill champion Erik Guay conquered the legendary Hahnenkamm downhill Saturday when he claimed his 19th World Cup podium and the first of his career at the so-called Super Bowl of ski racing with a second-place finish in Kitzbühel, Austria.
The 31-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., produced a superb run on the most difficult track on the World Cup circuit to move to within one podium of Crazy Canuck legend Steve Podborski’s Canadian record of 20 top-three finishes. In doing so, Guay also gave the Canadian Cowboys – the modern generation of Canadian alpine ski racers – a podium at the only downhill on World Cup tour where they had not previously been on the top steps, ironically at a race that is synonymous with the Crazy Canucks. Ken Read made history in 1980 by becoming the first non-European to win the Kitzbühel downhill and it’s 30 years since Todd Brooker became the last Canadian man to win it.
Guay’s result capped a superb team performance for the Canadian men, with all four starters finishing in the top 20. Manuel Osborne-Paradis, of Vancouver, B.C., battled his way into 10th place after starting 40th, while Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., was 17th and Jan Hudec, of Calgary, Alta., was 18th.
“If ever there’s a place you want to podium it’s Kitzbühel. It’s definitely the Super Bowl of the World Cup,” said Guay, who will defend the world championship title he won in 2011 in Schladming, Austria, next month. “I’m definitely pumped with the day. I stepped up where I needed to. Now I’m really excited for Schladming.”
Guay has been skiing superbly this season, finishing in the top 15 in all but one race yet only previously finishing on the podium once, a third-place finish in the downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, last month. He was fourth in Wengen, Switzerland, last weekend and he was fifth in Friday’s super-G in Kitzbühel.
“I executed really well. I skied really well,” said Guay, who clocked a time of one minute, 57.69 seconds. “I have to thank the coaches because I think we had a great game plan coming in here.”
Canadian ski racing history will forever be linked with Kitzbühel. Read started an incredible win streak with his victory in the downhill in 1980. Podborski won in 1981 and 1982 before Todd Brooker claimed another victory in 1983. Rob Boyd was the last Canadian man to podium in the Kitzbühel downhill after he finished third in 1991. Thomas Grandi was second in the Kitzbühel slalom in 2004.
“I think in other years when our team has come here we haven’t really attacked but this year we had a different mindset,” Guay said. “Our team is strong. I like that we are a small team – small but focused. Four guys who can all be competitive.”
France’s Dominik Paris laid down a superb run from bib No. 20 and Guay was the next man in the start gate. He looked like he’d done enough to take the lead but finished 13 one-hundredths of a second behind Paris, who took the victory. Austria’s Hannes Reichelt, who started 22nd, was third in 1:57.92.
“Those 13 one-hundredths probably came after the Hausberg into the small hill,” Guay said. “I skied it well but Dominik took even more chances there.”
Osborne-Paradis, in the midst of a superb comeback season, attacked from the back once again to jump into 11th place – then 10th, following a disqualification – after starting 40th.
“This is what we needed to do to start comparing ourselves to the Crazy Canucks,” said Osborne-Paradis of Guay’s podium. “Our goal is to be one of the best teams ever in Canada but we still have a long way to go.
“I lost a lot of time in the middle – there were some massive bumps starting from the back. But at least now I’m going back into the top 30 (starters).”
Thomsen, a fearless young racer who loves Kitzbühel, skied superbly in the bottom section after losing some time up top.
“My whole focus was the top because I knew I had the bottom dialed down,” said Thomsen, the newest member of the Canadian Cowboys, who finished in 1:59.23. “I just made a little bit of a mistake and just like that, I was fighting to stay in the top 20.
“It was unbelievable watching Erik skiing down – I’ve never cheered that hard in my life. I thought he had it but he skied phenomenal. He put his butt on the line.”
Hudec was delighted for his teammates but felt a little perplexed about his own run.
“I made a few mistakes today but I was losing time in sections where I was gaining it all week (in training),” said Hudec, who clocked a time of 1:59.24. “I’m stoked for Manny coming from way in the back to (10th) and obviously for Erik, to perform under pressure like that. Erik’s (podium) really puts us on the map.”
Pete Bosinger, head coach of the men’s team, said it was a great day for the whole team.
“The guys were in a great place coming in to this race and they felt very confident about what they were capable of,” Bosinger said. “Everybody knows the history of Kitzbühel and what it means to Canadian ski racing. Our guys kept to their plan, kept focused and went out there and took care of business.
“When you look at the results from the team – two guys in the top 10 and Erik’s second place – it shows that the team is incredibly strong. A lot of great milestones were accomplished here and there’s lots to celebrate but we know the season is still ahead of us and this is a team that’s ready to keep the momentum going.”