Canadian alpine ski team empty-handed: “It sucks”

Meanwhile, the U.S. team is crediting its success to home snow advantage

If honesty were an Olympic event, Robbie Dixon would be wearing a shiny gold medal around his neck. The Canadian skier—fresh off another disastrous run on the slopes of Whistler—was as candid as they come during his post-race chat with reporters. “It sucks. It hurts. I’m pretty pissed.”

Dixon isn’t just peeved about his own performance, a crash and burn during today’s Super G slalom. His entire team has failed to live up to the hometown hype that followed them to the 2010 Games. With four alpine events now finished (two men’s and two women’s) not a single Canadian downhill skier has earned a place on the podium. “It’s a bummer,” Dixon said. “There were definitely very big expectations coming in here, and I think those expectations were legit. They weren’t far-fetched. We had the tools and we had the coaching staff and everything we needed, and the fact that we’ve come away empty-handed, it’s hard to swallow.”

As the Canadians slump, their U.S. rivals are thriving. Bode Miller captured silver in Friday’s Super G—his second medal of the Olympics—while Andrew Weibrecht snatched the bronze. (Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won gold.) The American skiing squad now has six alpine medals in total, and with six more events to go, that number is almost certain to climb.

And how’s this for adding insult to injury? When asked why the U.S. team is performing so well, Wiebrecht suggested that the Americans feel at home in the mountains of British Columbia. “We’re on North American soil,” he said. “And we always seem to have better results when we’re at home or closer to home.”
That home snow advantage was supposed to be the key to our success on the hills (not to mention almost $2.2 million worth of “Own the Podium” funding for 11 specific skiers, Dixon included). As first reported in Maclean’s, Alpine Canada even went so far as to equip the team with missile-guidance GPS systems during practice, which allowed coaches and racers to dissect every inch of the Whistler course and find the best routes for attacking gates and turns. So much for that.

“I’ve learned that there are only three positions in ski racing that count: one, two and three,” Dixon said. “Fourth and beyond really don’t count. All I can take away from this is the fact that I was able to race in the Olympics for my home country in my backyard—on my home hill. It is something that no one can take away from me and it’s pretty special. But I came here, obviously, to win, and that didn’t happen.”

One Canadian skier did come close to the podium today: Erik Guay. The Quebec native immediately followed Svindal’s gold-worthy run with an impressive performance of his own, good enough for fifth. At 1:30.68, Guay finished only 0.34 seconds behind the winner—and the only thing standing between him and the bronze were three measly one-hundredths of a second. If not for a slight mistake coming around the third gate, Guay may have been just fast enough to redeem the rest of his underperforming team. “There’s not much I can say,” he said. “I’m a couple hundredths from third place, a couple hundredths from second, and three-tenths from the victory. It was in my grasp. It was there today.”

Despite the top-five finish, Guay also acknowledged the obvious: that by this point in the Olympics, people expected so much more from Canada’s alpine team. “It is disappointing for us and I think for Canada also,” he said. “We were here to deliver medals and we wanted to deliver medals, but it just didn’t happen.”

No one symbolizes that disappointment more than Manuel Osborne-Paradis, the 25-year-old who cut his skis on the slopes of Whistler when he could still barely walk. Whether he liked it or not, the B.C. native was the public face of Alpine Canada, the same one featured in that CTV commercial saying “losing is not an option.” Losing, unfortunately, is what he did. Osborne-Paradis placed a disappointing 17th in Monday’s downhill event, and in today’s Super G, he crashed long before the finish line. His Olympics are now over.

Over the past two years, Osborne-Paradis has done his best to downplay the Games, at one point saying he would rather win the overall World Cup skiing title than an Olympic gold. In the lead-up to Vancouver, countless reporters asked him how he was going to handle the pressure of skiing in front of hometown fans. His answer was always the same: I’ll treat it like every other event. This afternoon, standing in front of reporters yet again—his medal hopes dashed—he was asked whether the pressure finally got to him. After a long pause, he answered this way: “I liked the pressure. I liked the fact that people’s eyes were on me and wanted me to do well, because I think I’ve always done better like that. The expectations push you harder. I liked it. There was a lot of it here, and it was more than we’ve ever had, but I don’t think I succumbed to anything. I think it was just a good opportunity, and it was an opportunity lost.”

Do Canadians have a right to be disappointed, not only in you, but the rest of your teammates? “They have a reason to be disappointed,” he said. “Everybody has a reason to be disappointed. That’s what the expectations were—and that was our expectation, too.”

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