Exactly before the Olympic Games in their home country, Canada’s ski team is hit by a string of injuries: After John Kucera and Jean Philippe Roy, Francois Bourque is the third Canadian skier to have injured himself this winter season, after a fall during the Super-G on the Saslong.
Luckily Manuel Osborne-Paradis’s (25) victory at the Downhill on Saturday came just at the right time to lift the spirit of team Canada. In the Super G the reigning Overall World Champion Aksel Lund Svindal celebrated his premier win on the Saslong. He too has been out with an injury this season, but his win in Val Gardena/Groeden proves that he is fit again and a hot favourite for the Olympics 2010.
It’s rather paradoxical: Although this year there were luckily no serious falls on the Saslong either during the training runs or during the races, the World Cup week in Val Gardena/Groeden 2009 was dominated by the topic regarding safety. The reason being the high number of injuries alone this season: At least six of the top skiers, including Peter Fil (ITA), Lara Gut (SUI), Nicole Hosp (AUT), Thomas Lanning (USA), John Kucera (CAN) and Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin (FRA) have already seriously injured themselves during World Cup races this season. And the list goes one: For example the three Canadians Jean-Philipp Roy, Kelly Vanderbeek and Larisa Yurkiw, who seriously injured themselves just before the Olympic Games in Vancouver. Even in Val Gardena/Groeden there were some injuries: Tobias Stechert (GER) and Francois Bourque (CAN) injured their cruciate ligaments- without even falling.
Injuries: Athletes are demanding more safety measures.
In Val Gardena /Groeden the international ski organization FIS invited athletes and trainers to a number of meetings regarding safety. Werner Heel (ITA) last year’s Super G winner here in Val Gardena/Groeden, participated at the talks together with 5 other athletes and reported on the athletes’ demands. Their main concerns are better medical provisions, at least two helicopters on stand-by at the race course and a better thought-out World Cup calendar. FIS race director Guenter Hujara thought the meetings with athletes and coaches had been very productive. Some safety measurements would already be put into place during the next racesm, others would be realized from next season on. “At the next speed races we will use gate flags which are attached to the poles via a velcro band and easily come off, thereby minimizing injuries,” Hujara explained. At the same time an international group of scientists would be paid to research various safety measurements. Hujara further announced that in future the athletes will be equipped with special sensors during competitions with which the power used during the races will be measured, in accordance to which equipment and safety clothing will then be developed.
Bad luck for Heel
Werner Heel, who was part of the team discussing better safety measurements with the FIS, was the next injury victim. After his fall during the Super G race, the South Tyrolean still managed to ski down to the finish line by himself, but was then diagnosed with pulled ligaments in his knee. Although the injury will only take 2-3 weeks to heal it has come at a very unfortunate time. In both training runs Heel was amongst the fastest skiers and together with Michael Walchhofer (AUT), Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) and Didier Cuche (SUI) the Super-G winner of 2008 was among the favourites to win this year’s Downhill. However the Canadian Francois Bourque was even more unlucky. Bourque tore his cruciate ligaments at exactly the same place where Heel fell, but without even falling. The same happened on Wednesday during the first practice run: The German Tobias Stechert tore his cruciate ligaments, exactly like Bourque, without even falling.
Janka’s ski goggles
With Heel out of the race, Patrick Staudacher, another local hero and Super-G World Champion of 2007, managed to achieve third place. It was the first podium position of his career. The Swiss skier Carlo Janka took second place. He missed his fourth win this season by only 0.12 seconds (three wins in Beaver Creek). This deficit was probably due to his ski goggles which dislodged after he hit one of the poles with his face.
Aksel Lund Svindal used Janka’s misfortune to win his first race on the Saslong, at the same time his first win this season. The reigning overall World Cup winner had started the season with a calf injury and was only slowly finding his form. “I had two chances here and managed to make use of the first one straight away”, Svindal said after his victory. Lucky for him that he managed to convert his first chance, because the next day, during the Downhill, Svindal couldn’t repeat his result. The 27-year-old allrounder only managed 17th place.
No triple for Walchhofer
Not only Svindal performed badly in the Downhill, even the top favourite Michael Walchhofer didn’t manage to fulfill his dream of achieving a hattrick of victories on the Saslong. So far only the Austrian Franz Klammer has managed to win three Downhill races in a row in Val Gardena/Groeden in 1975 and 1976. Walchhofer seemed to be skiing perfectly but wasn’t lucky with the weather: Just as the other top favourites with starting numbers between 17 and 23, Walchhofer encountered strong headwind in the top section of the race course. Even Didier Cuche who participated with a broken rib only achieved a 10th placing and the fourth favourite Werner Heel couldn’t even participate in the Downhill due to the injury he incurred during the Super-G. Instead of the four favourites, four outsiders climbed on to the podium.
Four skiers on the podium
The third place was shared between the Swiss Ambrosi Hoffmann (32) and the French Johan Carey (28), who both finished 0.25 seconds behind the winner Osborne-Paradis. The Austrian Mario Scheiber managed to achieve 2nd place, finally achieving a podium positionagain, after nearly two years. With his second place in Val Gardena /Groeden Scheiber has so far achieved 11 podium positions, but the 26-year-old missed his first World Cup victory by 0.13 seconds. The winner Manuel Osborne-Paradis, at 25 years the youngest skier on the podium, probably gained his advantage in the techincally most difficult part of the Saslong, the Ciaslat meadows. Osborne-Paradis about his race: “Last year I was third. I have been thinking about this particular race course all summer and absolutely wanted to win here. During the training I managed to ski a good line, but I was always to slow. So I changed my tactics for the race and in the end I could have skied an even tighter line.”
Osborne-Paradis celebrates a bittersweet victory
For Osborne-Paradis the triumph in Val Gardena/Groeden was “bittersweet”, because during the five days before the race four of his teammates injured themselves badly. Jean-Philipp Roy tore cruciate ligaments in his right knee during the giant slalom in Val d’Isere and both Larisa Yurkiw and Kelly Vanderbeek tore cruciate ligaments in their left knees during the Downhill training run in Val d’Isere.
No results for the Italian skiers
Although there weren’t any injuries, the Italians produced catastrophic results. The best of the hosts was the young Dominik Paris, who managed to achieve a few World Cup points with his 28th placing. Christof Innerhofer only achieved a 52nd placing. The Bormio-winner of 2008 doesn’t seem to like the Saslong. Innerhofer lost four seconds to Osborne-Paradis, but he certainly won the prize for the best quote of the week: “ With this result you don’t need to analyze, because when the other skiers had already crossed the finish line, I was still up in the Ciaslat meadows.”