Downhill medal dreams dashed
WHISTLER – The hopes were as high as the altitude at the summit of Whistler Mountain. The expectations had been building on the likes of Canadian alpine skiers Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Robbie Dixon, natives of North Vancouver and roommates in Calgary, to win a medal, even gold, in the men's downhill at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games for months.
It didn't take long, however, for those great expectations to come tumbling down the Dave Murray Downhill course as Osborne-Paradis hit a rough spot and finished 17th while Dixon wiped out and didn't finish Monday.
Nearly 48 hours after it was postponed by poor weather, the downhill finally got out of the gate under high cloud and cool temperatures as a cacophony of cowbells from the Canadian contingent, as well as the Swiss who are known for bringing the noisy instruments to international sporting events, echoed off the rocks at Whistler Creekside.
In the end, however, it was the Swiss making the most noise as their countryman Didier Defago took the gold in 1:54.31, just .07 of a second ahead of Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal and .09 in front of American Bode Miller. Erik Guay of Quebec City was fifth. Jan Hudec, who moved to Red Deer from Czechoslovakia when he was five, finished 25th.
Defago came out of the gate 18th, a spot in front of Osborne-Paradis. That meant the Canadian, who went to high school in Invermere, had a tough act to follow. He attacked the course from the start as he aimed for gold. But then, in a stretch called Coach's Corner, Osborne-Paradis hit some bumps.
"You try and execute your race as well as it is in your head. We only skied for one spot and I knew all along I'd either be standing at the podium or I'd be pretty far away from the podium, and that's pretty much what happened there," said Osborne-Paradis.
"I wasn't able to hold on to the turn the way I wanted to. I took a really good line through there, but there were a couple of bumps that almost high-sided me and that's the end of the race. As I bobbled there, I knew my day was over."
In the months leading up to the Olympics, Osborne-Paradis' picture was played large in newspapers. Videotape of his exploits headlined Games previews that touted him as a gold medal candidate.
It was a legitimate expectation since he headed into the race third in the World Cup downhill rankings. During the ski season, racers are often satisfied with a result that doesn't have them standing on the podium. But with the media hype and public hopes focused on the Olympics, it was a different world for Osborne-Paradis on the mountain he first started skiing when he was three.
"It's the first race I went in where top 10 didn't cut it. It was a different type of racing this week," said Osborne-Paradis, 26. "I've never seen a race like that."
At least he made it to the bottom of the course in 1:55.44, 1.13 seconds behind Defago. Dixon didn't even get to cross the finish line.
DIxon was a darkhorse for a medal. He started this season off well, finishing from fifth to 12th in five events before suffering a concussion when he fell on ice in Austria while celebrating his birthday Jan. 4.
Taking off in 23rd spot to chants of "Robbie, Robbie," Dixon flew out of the starting gate. Just 15 seconds in, he sent one of the gates flying in the air.
"Actually the gate whipped around and smoked me in the back of the head pretty good. I didn't like that. I was seeing stars for a beat or two after," said Dixon.
His first split time was only 0.63 seconds behind Defago's, and the second was even better at .60. But then he lost control and wiped out. The only thing he hurt was his Olympic dreams.
"I just took way too aggressive a line, I couldn't hold it," said Dixon, 25. "It was just that second little bump and that threw me off guard."
It was tough to take because Whistler is his home mountain, and the Dave Murray Downhill – named after a member of the Crazy Canuck Canadian men's ski team of the 1970s and ’80s – his favourite course.
"You dream about it. You want to see yourself on top of the podium like that.," said Dixon. "It's hard to keep that mind clear after that outcome. Maybe [the pressure] crept in a little bit too much."
All four Canadians will be back on Whistler's slopes Friday for the Super-G race.
Men's downhill race photos by Don Denton/Black Press
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