Erik Guay wrote his name into the history books Sunday as the most decorated Canadian alpine World Cup skier of all time with his 21st career podium in the classic downhill in Bormio, Italy.
The 32-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., won the downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, last weekend to tie Crazy Canuck legend Steve Podborski’s Canadian record and he wasted no time setting a new mark with a third-place finish on the bumpy and physically-demanding Stelvio course.
Guay, the 2010 super-G Crystal Globe winner and 2011 world downhill champion, is on track to challenge for his first Olympic medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia – the only major honour that still eludes the Canadian Cowboy.
“It’s awesome to set the record and especially in Bormio, a place where I’ve never had a podium before,” said Guay, who was lightning fast at the top of the course. “It was huge to be able to tie Steve Podborski’s record and to be able to beat it a week later is really special.
“For the first time in my career I know why I’m fast and I feel like I can be fast anywhere and on any course. Sochi is the big one this year but as an athlete you always focus on individual races. Right now Sochi is in the future and I’m looking forward to getting home and spending some time with my family.”
Guay, aiming to become the first Canadian since 1981 to win back-to-back downhills, crushed the top section of the Stelvio and at one point had a lead of 1.26 seconds. He lost some time lower down but still crossed the finish line with a lead of 0.47 seconds.
“I had a really good run,” said Guay, who started 17th and clocked a time of one minute, 54.59 seconds. “I think I skied smart and pushed it and did everything right. Right towards the very bottom I tried to take a tighter line than was possible but that’s ski racing.”
Guay, who was fastest in Saturday’s final downhill training run, was sitting pretty in first place until his friend and rival Aksel Lund Svindal, of Norway – starting 20th – produced a superb run and an extremely strong bottom section to take the win in 1:54.08. Austria’s Hannes Reichelt, starting 21st, crossed the line in 1:54.47 to finish second and push Guay into third.
“It was important to finish the year strong and we’re totally happy with the situation we find ourselves in with Erik,” said Martin Rufener, head coach of Canada’s men’s team. “We all know he returned to snow in October (following knee surgery). Sometimes when you get back from an injury and a longer rest it gives your body another kick.
“When you get results like this it helps with the mental strength and confidence. It’s so important to have Erik as the team leader, showing that he’s on top of the world. It helps the other guys and shows the next group what they have to do.”
With his second podium of the season in downhill, Guay remains second in the discipline standings with 207 points. Svindal leads with 300. Guay is also seventh in the overall World Cup rankings with 261 points, which Svindal also leads with 630 points. Guay, Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Jan Hudec have all met the qualification criteria for nomination to Canada’s team for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games, which is two top-12 World Cup results, including at least one this season.
Like Guay, Hudec, of Calgary, Alta., was lightning-fast up top on Sunday and had the green leader’s light for the first two splits. A big mistake slowed him down, however, and he clocked a time of 1:55.41 to finish 14th.
Osborne-Paradis, of Vancouver, B.C., started 11th and had some strong sections in a hard-charging run that saw him cross the line in 1:55.88 – good for 21st place.
There was a third career top-30 result – and the first this season – for Conrad Pridy, of Whistler, B.C., who started 51st but attacked the course to finish in a tie for 29th in a time of 1:56.37. Hidden on the results sheet was also a superb run from comeback kid Robbie Dixon, also of Whistler, who was sitting eighth after an electric top section when he almost went out. He recovered but crossed the line in 1:56.43 for 32nd place.
“Conrad made the first step with 29th today – he gets into the points,” said Rufener. “We still have work to do but it’s a start.
“Robbie was looking very, very strong and then his shoulder went on the ground and he lost a second or 1.3 or so. He’s training hard to be in there and he was going for it today.”
The other Canadian finishers were Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., who was 37th and Jeffrey Frisch, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., who was 41st.
Podborski helped put Canadian ski racers on the map as a member of the legendary Crazy Canucks. He racked up 20 World Cup podiums between 1979 and 1984 – all of them in downhill. While Podborski held the Canadian record for male alpine ski racers, Nancy Greene-Raine has the highest total among female Canadians. She recorded 18 World Cup podiums from 1967-1968 – in three disciplines – and also had two Olympic medals in 1968. In that era, Olympic medals counted towards the World Cup total so she also has a total of 20. Guay got the first of his 21 podiums in the downhill in Lake Louise, Alta., in 2003.