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CALGARY, ALTA. (FEB. 17, 2013) — Four former world champions will lead the charge for Canada at the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships this week in La Molina, Spain.
One of team Canada’s most decorated racers, visually-impaired skier Viviane Forest, will be competing in her first world championships in four years, while veteran Chris Williamson is looking for redemption at the same event where he suffered an injury that left him sidelined for two years. Williamson and Forest were crowned men’s and women’s world super-G champions in 2009 in Korea, and both are hoping to return to worlds with a vengeance.
The experienced duo headlines a team of 11 of the country’s best para-alpine athletes that includes two other former world champions, sit-skiers Josh Dueck and Kimberly Joines – who won the men’s and women’s downhill in 2009 – in addition to a group of talented young up-and-coming athletes like brothers Mac and Billy Joe Marcoux. Members of the Canadian team will be competing in five events at La Molina: downhill, super-G, slalom, giant slalom, and super-combined, from Feb. 18-27.
“We’ve all been training hard and working hard,” Williamson said of the team’s preparation for world championships. “I think if we stay positive and relaxed we can do well as a country.”
Two years ago at the world championships in Sestriere, Italy, Canada brought home six medals, most of which were bronze.
“We were really looking for a gold medal. All week we were hoping to get the national anthem playing. That was our goal,” said para-alpine World Cup coach Sven Pouliot. “I think this year we have some athletes who could make that happen if everything holds together.”
One man striving hard for the podium is Williamson, from Toronto, Ont., who will be racing with guide Robin Fémy of Mont-Tremblant, Que. The world championships hold special significance for the veteran racer, because he was injured at the 2011 event in Sestriere, Italy. After medaling in four events and with just one run left to go in downhill, Williamson took a warm-up run and fell, breaking his wrist and tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). A win in downhill at the world championships has so far eluded Williamson, who said it would be “a dream to hold the world championship title in downhill.”
“I’d really like to medal in all five events,” He said. “It’s my goal to ski strong and ski the way I know I can, and the results will come with all the work I’ve done leading up to it.”
Williamson said he feels more pressure to perform at the world championships compared to a regular World Cup event, but that the added pressure also intensifies the potential buzz that comes with earning a world championship victory.
“It’s one of those events where it’s a one-day thing, but it’s a title you can carry for the rest of your life,” Williamson said. “To be able to say you’re a world champion, that you’re the best in the world – that potential definitely makes it a special event and carries a lot of weight because of it.”
Williamson returned to the World Cup circuit in January after a two-year hiatus, earning three back-to-back podium finishes in Sestriere, Italy. He also nabbed two first-place results in super-G at recent Nor-Am races in Kimberley, B.C., following a week of training in Panorama, B.C. The training session brought the team to a good place heading into world championships, Williamson said.
“I think Canada’s potential is very strong, especially on the visually-impaired side with Viviane returning and with the Marcoux brothers doing so well. I think we have a good chance. The Marcoux brothers have really come out of their shells this year and surprised a lot of people, which is good,” Williamson said, joking, “As long as they stay one step on the podium behind me, it’ll be great!”
Mac Marcoux, from Sault-Ste Marie, Ont., is making his world championship debut at just 15 years old, alongside his brother and guide, 18-year-old Billy Joe. The pair raced in their first two World Cup races in January, where they turned heads by earning three top-three finishes.
“With what Mac has shown so far, I think he is one to watch,” said para-alpine head coach Jean-Sébastien Labrie. “It’ll be interesting to see him react at a bigger event now that he’s had a World Cup race under his belt.”
The speed events are where Canada has the best chance of getting strong results, Labrie added.
“I think our program could really shine in speed. With the athletes who are racing, we could do really well,” he said. “At the same time, we haven’t raced speed events at this hill before, only technical, so it’s a bit of a question mark.”
Sit-skiers Dueck and Joines have both proven themselves as strong speed skiers. After winning the downhill at world championships in 2009, Dueck, from Kimberley, B.C., placed fifth in 2011, and is itching to get back on the podium. Joines, from Rossland, B.C., also won world championship downhill and super-G in 2009, and has more than a dozen World Cup podiums in the two disciplines. Both skiers have had a slow start to the season, but they have been adjusting their equipment and gaining momentum heading into this year’s world championships.
On the technical side, Forest, from Edmonton, Alta., has great potential going into the La Molina races, Labrie said.
“Viviane is someone who I think can do really well in slalom and giant slalom. She was strong and consistent early in the season when she raced in Colorado, so after being away for a while it’ll be interesting to see how she handles herself at a world event. I’m very confident that if she skis like she has been in training, then she can hope for the podium. It’s not a given – she still has to work at it – but she has the potential to do very well.”
Returning to the world ski stage is “nerve-wracking” Forest said, but the nervousness pushes her to ski faster. “It’s positive, but stressful at the same time. I have to stop over-thinking sometimes and just go forward with a good feeling and push hard top to bottom,” she said.
“It’s kind of interesting, because a lot of my opponents have changed (since last racing two years ago). A lot of them retired, and a lot of new people came into the sport. La Molina will be a good chance to get a feel for how things have changed in the sport before going into Sochi.”
Forest, who previously raced in both speed and technical events, will be focusing solely on slalom and giant slalom at world championships. She will ski alongside guide Chloé Lauzon-Gauthier from Joliette, Que.
“I have started to really enjoy slalom, whereas before it was a little bit of a love-hate relationship,” Forest said. “I think I have come a long way, and I still have a way to go before getting to my best performance, but it’s looking good for sure.”
Forest will lean on Canada’s strong team dynamic to help urge her on throughout the event.
“We have a really great group,” Forest said. “The team dynamic is awesome; everybody gets along and we always help each other. Because of that I find it easy to perform and push. I think when you have a good relationship inside the team, you want to win for the team and not just for yourself. You want to make your coaches proud and your nation proud.”
Alexandra Starker, Braydon Luscombe and Caleb Brousseau will help round out the Canadian team at world championships. Eighteen-year-old Starker, from Calgary, Alta., is racing in her first full World Cup season with the team but already earned a podium result in January in giant slalom in the women’s standing category. Luscombe, a standing skier from Duncan, B.C., who joined the team in 2011, has been performing well in technical events this season and is a strong contender for the men’s slalom. Brousseau, a sit-skier from Terrace, B.C., is riding momentum from a solid performance at the team’s most recent training camp and is looking to earn his first world championship result.
Veteran men’s standing racer, Matt Hallat, from Coquitlam, B.C., will not be racing due to injury.
The para-alpine world championships will kick off with men’s and women’s downhill on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Canadian para-alpine world championship team:
|Caleb Brousseau||24||Men's sitting||Terrace, B.C.|
|Josh Dueck||32||Men's sitting||Kimberley, B.C.|
|Robin Fémy||23||Guide - men's VI||Mont-Tremblant, Que.|
|Viviane Forest||33||Ladies' VI||Edmonton, Alta.|
|Kimberly Joines||32||Ladies' sitting||Rossland, B.C.|
|Chloé Lauzon-Gauthier||26||Guide - ladies' VI||Joliette, Que.|
|Braydon Luscombe||20||Men's standing||Duncan, B.C.|
|Billy Joe Marcoux||18||Guide - men's VI||Sault Ste-Marie, Ont.|
|Mac Marcoux||15||Men's VI||Sault Ste-Marie, Ont.|
|Alexandra Starker||18||Ladies' standing||Calgary, Alta.|
|Chris Williamson||40||Men's VI||Toronto, Ont.|
* Note: VI denotes visually impaired.
Monday, February 18 – Downhill training
Tuesday, February 19 – Downhill training
Wednesday, February 20 – Downhill
Friday, February 22 – Super-G
Saturday, February 23 – Slalom
Tuesday, February 26 – Giant slalom
Wednesday, February 27 – Team event
For more information, go to http://www.paralympic.org/Events/LaMolina2013
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