The Canadian Press
Canadian skier Marie-Michele Gagnon has tasted World Cup success, but she hungers for more than just a taste.
The 25-year-old from Lac-Etchemin, Que., wants to move up from seventh in the world, where she currently ranks in slalom, and into the top three.
Gagnon opened this season sixth in Levi, Finland, and eighth in Aspen, Colo. A solid start, but it’s so last season to Gagnon.
“I’m starting to get frustrated,” she said. “I want more and it only started this year in Levi when I was sixth and I said ‘Ah, again?’
“Honestly, all of last year I was really happy with any of those results because they brought consistency to my skiing and brought me into the top seven. Now that I’m in the top seven I’m in the game and I know I can do better.”
Gagnon won her first World Cup medal two years ago in Are, Sweden, where she claimed bronze in slalom. She returns this week to the Swedish resort for a giant slalom Friday and slalom Saturday.
“The last few years I’ve been really fast in the first run and unfortunately either straddling (a gate) or going out on the second run,” she said. “But I love this hill. It’s my favourite hill for slalom. It could go well if I put everything together.”
The combined times of two runs determines the winner in both slalom and giant slalom. Gagnon says she often nails the first run and the second is where she loses a medal.
Because of her ranking she’s among the first seven out of the start hut for run No. 1 on a smooth course. The order is reversed for the second run, so Gagnon skis a track more chewed up by the skiers before her.
“I’ve been super-fast in the first runs, fourth and fifth depending, always in the chase,” she explained. “It’s all mental obviously. It’s about doing the same thing in the second run as you do in the first.
“You’ve just got to know it’s going to feel more rough, but take the same approach as in the first run, so I’m going to try that.”
Gagnon claimed her first World Cup victory, and the second podium of her career, on Jan. 12 of this year in a World Cup super-combined in Austria. The event is the total time of one slalom run and one shorter downhill race or super-G.
It’s a measure of a skier’s all-around racing ability, but also rarer on the World Cup schedule.
Gagnon won’t race a super-combined until Feb. 9 during the world alpine ski championships in Vail, Colo. A self-described “slalom ninja”, Gagnon keeps a toe in speed events in order to contend in super-combined.
It’s why she flew in to participate in Sunday’s super-G in Lake Louise, Alta. She missed a gate and didn’t finish, but Gagnon wasn’t discouraged.
“I was in the game,” she said. “I’d rather have charged rather than held back and not do anything.”
Gagnon has dislocated her left shoulder three times in the last eight months and races with a brace on her shoulder.
She suffered the first dislocation in a crash during the slalom portion of the Olympic super-combined in February. After the injury, Gagnon raced to ninth in Olympic slalom, but did not finish GS.
Her shoulder slipped out of joint while weight training in Calgary in the off-season. She crashed in the first run of a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria on Oct. 25 and injured it again. She intends to race through it this season.
“Once you dislocate it once, it’s more prone to dislocate again,” Gagnon said. “I’m probably going to have to get surgery in the spring.”
Gagnon says she was “fried” after a stressful Olympic Games. She and boyfriend Travis Ganong, a skier on the U.S. men’s team, bought a home in the Lake Tahoe, Calif., area in the off-season.
Despite her shoulder injury, Gagnon says she feels strong enough shave off those hundredths of a second that are the difference in ski racing.
“I’m really close,” she said. “That’s why I always say in interviews I’m getting sick of fourth and fifth and sixth, but at the same time I’ve got to be patient. It’s almost there, so I’m going to keep working with that.”
“It’s just consistency, solid skiing and having that little bit of risk.”