Yurkiw Leads Canada Into Alpine Championship


Canada heads into the world alpine ski championship with medal potential but little momentum.

Races start Tuesday in Beaver Creek, CO, with women’s super-G.

Larisa Yurkiw, of Owen Sound, ON, hopes to build on winning the first World Cup medal of her career this season.

Former world men’s downhill champion Erik Guay and Olympic super-G bronze medallist Jan Hudec won’t compete in the world championship because of knee issues.

Manuel Osborne-Paradis won World Cup silver to open his season, but the man alongside Guay and Hudec in Canada’s “big three” had a rough January.

He hasn’t raced since crashing Jan. 18 in Wengen, Switzerland. Osborne-Paradis wiped out again a few days later in a training run in Kitzbuehel, Austria, and withdrew from that race.

The 30-year-old from Invermere, BC, has severe bruising on his right side. Osborne-Paradis was preparing to race in pain unless it dissipates before Wednesday’s super-G and Saturday’s downhill.

“I’m a competitor and there’s nothing that I want to do more than ski fast,” he said. “I really think a big part of how I do is if I can start getting used to skiing with the pain.”

Slalom specialist Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, QC, continues to hover near the podium, but has yet to step on it this season.

The World Cup circuit measures a skier’s consistency over a season. The bi-annual world alpine championship is a test of performance on demand similar to the Winter Olympics.

“The competitiveness is as high as the Olympics for us,” Yurkiw said. “It’s just that the Olympics is the one everyone watches.”

The world championship rarely leaves Europe. The last gathering in North America of the world’s top skiers was in nearby Vail in 1999.

Racing as close to home as the event ever gets, Canada’s 14-skier team could use the spark of a medal.

The Canadian men’s speed team is familiar with Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey course. It’s been a regular men’s World Cup stop since 1999. Osborne-Paradis doesn’t love it.

“For a course that already doesn’t suit my abilities as a ski racer, it’s going to be tough to get my head wrapped around doing well here,” he said. “It’s steeper and I do better on medium terrain.”

The new women’s Raptor track hosted a test World Cup in 2013 when Yurkiw was 15th in super-G. She’ll race the downhill Friday.

“It’s definitely a rugged course,” she said. “You have to have hair on your chest for this track.

Canadians won back-to-back men’s downhill titles in 2009 (John Kucera) and 2011 (Guay). Kucera has since retired.

Guay is still coming back from a pair of off-season knee surgeries. The 33-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., has pushed back his projected return to racing until after the world championships.

Calgary’s Hudec, a downhill silver medallist in 2007, underwent knee surgery last month.

The last world championship medals won by Canadian women were Melanie Turgeon’s downhill gold and Allison Forsyth’s giant slalom bronze in 2003.

Gagnon is a contender in next week’s slalom if she can string together two fast runs instead of just one. She’s also one to watch in next Monday’s combined event of a slalom and a downhill. Gagnon became the first Canadian woman to win a World Cup combined event in 2013.

Yurkiw finished second in a women’s downhill Jan. 16 in Cortina, Italy, for her first career World Cup medal. The 26-year-old was also fourth in Lake Louise, AB, in December to help her to a current world ranking of ninth.

Erik Read of Banff, Alta., will make his world championship debut in Colorado. He’s the son of former Crazy Canuck Ken Read. Toronto’s Philip Brown, Ottawa’s Dustin Cook, Morgan Pridy of Whistler, BC, Ben Thomsen of Invermere and Calgary’s Trevor Philp round out the men’s team.

Yurkiw and Gagnon will be joined on the women’s squad by Erin Mielzynski of Collingwood, ON, Marie-Pier Prefontaine of Mont-Saint-Sauveur, QC, Toronto’s Candace Crawford, Valerie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, QC, and Mikaela Tommy of Wakefield, QC.

The world alpine championship concludes Feb. 15.