LEVI, FIN (Nov. 7, 2012) — The first Canadian to win a slalom World Cup race since 1971 is hoping her historic victory is just the start of a new era of success for a talented young ladies’ team that goes into the first slalom race of the season this weekend expecting to challenge for top honours.
Erin Mielzynski, of Guelph, Ont., announced her arrival as a major talent when she won the slalom in Ofterschwang, Germany, in March. Her stunning result was swiftly followed by teammate Marie-Michèle Gagnon’s first World Cup podium, also in slalom, as the Canadian ladies’ team showed the world they will be a force to be reckoned with in the lead-up to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
This weekend the talented duo will lead a group of young technical skiers in the first World Cup slalom race of the season in Levi, Finland, on Saturday, before a Canadian men’s team featuring veterans Mike Janyk – the 2009 world championship medallist – and Julien Cousineau, as well as some talented up-and-comers, compete in the men’s race.
“I’m really excited for this season in slalom,” said Mielzynski, who finished last year ranked 15th in the world in her best discipline. “At the beginning of the season there’s always some nerves. You just have to accept that and push through. We’ve put in all the work. Now’s the time when we can just kind of see our hard work pay off.”
Mielzynski says what she achieved in Ofterschwang didn’t really sink in until she started to reflect on it over the summer.
“After I got back home we looked back at the video and the pictures. My family put so much time and money into my skiing and just seeing how proud they were made it all worthwhile,” said the 22-year-old Mielzynski. “My results reflect all that my family has done as well as what I have achieved. It’s weird because a lot of people who see me say, ‘I’m sure you hear this a lot . . .’ but you never get tired of people saying that they are proud of you.”
Mielzynski, a former waterskier who won silver in jump at the junior world championships, is hoping her victory in Ofterschwang will help propel her to new heights this season.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself of that day because things get tough or you lose a little bit of confidence. I think back to that day and remind myself it’s possible,” Mielzynski said. “It takes a lot to build confidence and it only takes a day to tear it down. I know the feelings I had that day and how I felt in the start - and what was going through my mind. It’s nice to have that to rely on and to think back.”
Gagnon, of Lac-Etchemin, Que., who is ranked 10th in the world in slalom, had a superb start to the 2012-13 season in October when she finished sixth in giant slalom. She’s hoping to build on that in Finland this weekend, a race that’s held under artificial lights due to the lack of sunlight.
“I remember getting off the bus in Levi and it was -40 or something,” said Gagnon, 23, who was 16th in 2010 in Levi and 14th in 2009. “It doesn’t get light until 11 (a.m.) and it gets dark around 4 (p.m.) or something. When it’s light it’s kind of like our haziest days in Canada. It’s like rainy haze.”
Up to four other Canadian ladies are expected to join Gagnon and Mielzynski in the start gate: Elli Terwiel, of Sun Peaks, B.C., Ève Routhier, of Sherbrooke, Que. and Britt Phelan, of Mont-Tremblant, Que.
“We know (Gagnon and Mielzynski) are aiming for the podium. We just want them to confirm they are top-15 athletes and ski exactly like they’ve been skiing in training,” said Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of the ladies’ alpine team. “For them, it’s mostly just mental readiness and, for sure, nerves, starting the first slalom race of the season. It’s important to ski very solid and start the season well. Elli and Ève need to try to qualify. It’s going to be tough but they need to step up.”
On the men’s side, Janyk, of Whistler, B.C., is Canada’s major contender with Cousineau, of Lachute, Que., returning to action following a knee injury. Youngsters Trevor Philp, of Calgary, Alta., and Sasha Zaitsoff, of Queens Bay, B.C., will gain valuable World Cup experience, while veteran Trevor White, also of Calgary, may also be ready to start after making good progress in his recovery from a knee injury.
“The goals are to see Mike ski into the top 15. We would like to see top 10 but it’s the first race of the year and his start number is going to be late teens or early twenties,” said Pete Bosinger, head coach of the men’s alpine team. “At this point, Cousineau is coming back from injury, so for him to ski in the top 30 would be the goal.”
Cousineau has had a busy week after his wife gave birth to a baby boy named Benjamin Charles Cousineau. He is hoping his son will be the latest in a long line of talented skiers in his family.
“My dad was pretty good, I got better than him and hopefully (my son will be) better than me," Cousineau said. “(There was a) lot of hard work trying to rebuild my knee (this summer) and get in shape but everything went well. I’m just excited to go back and race again and see all the guys. The last time I raced (in Levi) I was eighth so I had a pretty good race. Hopefully we will start with a good result there again this year.”
After the slalom races wrap up in Levi, the fastest ski racers on the planet will head to Canada for the first speed events of the year. Lake Louise, Alta., will host men’s downhill and super-G races on Nov. 24 and 25. The ladies will then compete in downhill and super-G races in Lake Louise from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. For more information about the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup, visit www.alpinecanada.org/winterstart.
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