Canada's slalom storm

01 December 2009 09:28

By Michael Mastarciyan, CTVOlympics.ca

You've heard of the Crazy Canucks. The Canadian Cowboys and Canadian Speed Queens are also probably pretty familiar too - given the way they've been ripping up the World Cup tour the last couple of years. But you probably haven't heard of The Canadian Slalom Storm - the nickname for three of the fastest female slalom skiers Canada has ever produced.

The Storm - Marie-Michèle Gagnon, 20, Anna Goodman 23, and Brigitte Acton, 23, all from La Belle Province - made a huge statement at the first World Cup slalom races of the season in Levi, Finland last weekend finishing in 14th, 16th and 17th - in a discipline that's been very hard slogging for Canada's female World Cup skiers for decades.

The results, while not medal-worthy, are a very healthy and robust start for a very tight-knit group of young racers who have nothing to lose and everything to gain going into the Winter Games in Whistler this February.

"Levi was a great start, but this team has a lot of potential. Anna, Mitch (Marie-Michele) and Brigitte have been very, very fast in training, if they kick it into the next gear we'll be seeing some very positive results on race days," said Jim Pollock, head coach of the Canadian Alpine Team's ladies tech squad from their current race camp in Panorama, BC.

"It is definitely sort of a relief in a way. Just to know that all that hard training we had this summer paid off. It's also great that as a team, we are now more of a threat to other countries in a discipline that Canadian women haven't had much success in, in the past," added Gagnon.

In fact, Canadian women's slalom racing at the World Cup level has been in period of severe drought since the late 1960s when Nancy Greene was the dominant queen of the hill. The Storm say they're willing to do whatever it takes to change the status quo for Canada in slalom.

"We have been together for a whole year now and we have been pushing each other every day on snow and in the gym to be faster more efficient athletes. Stating the season off strong feels awesome, and knowing that we all can still ski faster like we do in training is a confidence booster," said Goodman.

Based on a complicated Olympic quota system that is still playing itself out, Canada will likely have four spots available for women's slalom, so skiing faster is at the top of the agenda for all three Storm members - especially since there are four other members - Shona Rubens, Eve Routier , Brittany Phelan, and Erin Mielzynksi - also hungry for a chance to ski in front of friends and family in Whistler.

"I was lucky to get some experience in Torino, so I am hoping to qualify and use it racing in Whistler. I try and stay pretty relaxed and I love the hype of big events. It fuels me more than anything," said Acton who had three top-20 results at the Torino Winter Games in 2006.

"I think with Anna, Brigitte and Mitch proving themselves in Levi and Shona Rubens and the younger racers coming fast behind we have reached a critical mass in slalom, where the group becomes a force in Canadian skiing and makes a place for itself in the ski world like our women's downhill teams have in the past," added Pollock.

A victory or a podium finish would probably guarantee a spot on the Olympic squad, but breaking into the top three in this discipline is a tough task given the current dominance of Germany's slalom team who placed four racers in the top-10 in Levi (including a 1st for Maria Riesch and a 4th for her sister Susanne), a host of super-talented Austrians, and the discipline's two other juggernauts Lindsey Vonn and Tanja Poutiainen.

"If I qualify for the Olympics I know I will be going as an underdog, and know that I have nothing to lose. Just another opportunity to try to ski as fast as I can and hopefully get to the podium," said Goodman.

"Now it's just a matter of taking it to the next gear during racing, which in training most of us can achieve. We definitely have nothing to lose and everything to gain though since we all need to get our own spot to the Olympics, so being a front runner or not you will need to get the results for it," added Gagnon.

The Storm's "nothing to lose" attitude coupled with the abundance of raw talent this young crew is only just beginning to harness collectively will make them dangerous opponents next February - especially in front of a loud and boisterous home crowd in Whistler.

Original article published at CTV Olympics website here.