Kitzbuehel: Are these Canucks crazy enough to tame the Streif? Downhill alums weigh inKITZBUEHEL, Austria – None of the Canadians who will start in Saturday’s downhill at Kitzbuehel have ever raced the legendary course before. Because of a snowstorm, they have had only one training run this week.
Look out below.
‘Last year it was canceled, and the year before that I was injured and we didn’t really have a team in place yet’ said Erik Guay, the team’s top downhiller, ranked ninth in the standings.
In 2004, the team was so young and inexperienced that its coaches decided not to race any athletes and risk an injury. Canadians have a history of tough spills at Kitzbuehel.
Nevertheless, the Canadians are excited to run the course and thereby complete their initiation as World Cup downhillers. They were grinning like the Joker at the finish of the Streif course on Tuesday. That training run had started at the unusually early hour of 10:30 a.m. because organizers were worried about incoming snowstorms.
Manny Osborne-Paradis, 24th in the standings, saw the early start time as a benefit.
‘It might have been better’ he said. ‘We didn’t have time to think about what we were going to do, eh? We just kind of did what we know how to do.’
Guay and Osborne-Paradis said they didn’t even have time for a warm-up run Tuesday, but that they spoke to reigning overall champion Bode Miller before their start and asked the American (sixth in the downhill standings) for pointers.
‘Bode set us on the right track’ said Guay. ‘We were like, ‘What do you do,’ and he was like, ‘First day man, just stand up, ride it and go easy.’
Guay said he put 60 percent into that run, feeling out the treacherous terrain where Canadian greats Ken Read, Steve Podborski and Todd Brooker won four years in a row in the early 1980s.
‘I was a little nervous, I won’t lie to you’ said Guay.
In addition to affirming their status as some of the most exciting downhillers of all time at Kitzbuehel, Canadians have also had ugly disasters here, most notably Brian Stemmle, who in 1989 was nearly killed in a crash at the bottom of the Steilhang section. He broke his pelvis and was in the hospital with numerous internal injuries for three months.
‘Nobody will ever experience that amount of pain in their lives’ Stemmle said in a Ski Racing telephone interview this week. ‘It was like someone was kicking me in the groin every five minutes for two weeks.’
Todd Brooker, now a commentator for NBC, ended his career with a nasty crash on the traverse below the Hausberg jump.
On the start list for Thursday’s training run, which was canceled, were four Kitzbuehel newbies from Canada: Guay, Osborne-Paradis, John Kucera and Francois Bourque. Presumably all four will get their crack at the Streif course on Saturday.
Rob Boyd, the last of the Crazy Canucks, was third in the Kitzbuehel downhill in 1991 (0.66 behind runner-up Peter Runggaldier of Italy and 0.73 behind race winner Franz Heinzer of Switzerland).
In an interview in December, he recalled his first time down the Streif. ‘It’s a hell of an experience’ said Boyd, now a coach with the Canadian women’s team. ‘My first time there I was coming off a win in Val Gardena, so I was very confident in my skiing. So I looked at it, didn’t think much of it, and went and finished 11th.’
That was 1987, when the winner was Swiss overall champion Pirmin Zurbriggen. Over the next 11 years, Boyd would race the Kitzbuehel downhill seven times, and get three top 10s. Each time he went back, he said, he was a little more intimidated, which he said was either wisdom or the fact that in his first race, he had been so confident coming off a win.
‘When your confidence is high, you can pull off amazing feats’ he explained.
Asked in December what he thought the Canadians would do this year at Kitz, he offered a few predictions.
‘Manny Osborne is crazy enough that he could really do something, and certainly his confidence is coming up’ said Boyd. ‘Erik Guay certainly has a lot of confidence. And Francois Bourque, you never know, he could get it going in speed.’