When race organizers in Levi received the green light by FIS for this weekend’s World Cup women’s slalom opener, the slalom-focussed Canadian women’s team may have sighed in relief as they look to gain points en masse to regain a sense of normality in a season that will be anything but.
Starting the season with three women in the top 30 in the slalom standings, and one just outside, the Canadians will likely have five in the start gate at Levi, with 26-year-old Laurence St-Germain leading the way. Four top-15 World Cup finishes last season puts the former-student athlete from Quebec in the 18th-ranked spot, surrounded by familiar faces Erin Mielzynski (21st), Roni Remme (25th), Ali Nullmeyer (33rd) and Amelia Smart (40th) — all likely to get starts in Levi.
Mielzynski looking to regain old form
Switching from a long-term relationship with Rossignol, the 30-year-old Canadian team veteran made the move to Atomic in the offseason with the hopes of reviving previous World Cup glory. Since winning Ofterschwang, Germany in 2012, becoming the first Canadian to win a technical event in 41 years (Kathy Kreiner, 1974), Mielzynski has been mostly mediocre.
With three Olympic Games under her belt and 118 World Cup starts, the Collingwood, Ontario, consummate professional who has 19 career top 10 finishes – along with a World Championship silver medal in the team event in 2015 – will no doubt be looking for a fresh start, and has a solid team around her.
Season of ‘twists and turns’ ahead
How to navigate uncertainties, along with how to travel, train and prepare for a Europe-only World Cup season has become a song-and-dance routine unlike any other season in alpine racing history. The Levi event will allow spectators, with a limited number of tickets for purchase (each ticket comes with two approved face masks).
Already the most travelled winter sport athletes on the planet, North American ski racers have been bracing for a logistical nightmare of a season, with guaranteed plan deviations never before dealt with by previous generations of globe-trotting alpine racers.
Quarantines, travel restrictions, isolation, changing rules and numerous other COVID-19 related challenges, are daily details the team has grown accustomed to. The European Union removed Canadians from its list of approved travellers on Oct. 22, adding further uncertainty over athlete travel.
“A day doesn’t go by where there’s not some new alert, twist or turn in the challenges that we face,” Phil McNichol, Alpine Canada’s high performance director, said to the Canadian Press. “In terms of logistics and operational concerns, this has been a whole new playing field. Right now you’re seeing in Europe not just countries, but parts of countries being identified and restricted in different ways.”
Read: Stay positive, test negative
Men’s team leader Erik Read, who raced in Soelden, Austria in October, has been in Europe since Sept. 21 and intends to stay there until the racing season is over in March.
“My strategy was to bring over equipment just to allow myself to do other activities,” he said. “I don’t normally bring my hiking stuff to Europe.”
Read feels he’s more nimble in adapting to changing rules and restrictions within Europe if he remains there. The possibility that travel restrictions could tighten on incoming Canadians was another incentive to stay.
“You’re prepared for the idea that we might all of a sudden have to head home if a full lockdown happens across Europe.”
Deciding if, when and for how long to return to Canada, and determining how much the required 14-day quarantine could be detrimental to racing form, was only half the puzzle for athletes.
Read may have said it best when he stated one of his season goals “to stay positive, test negative” as he navigates a season unlike any other.
– The Canadian Press contributed to this report.