I first gained an appreciation of downhill skiing during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary while watching Alberto Tomba scream down the hills of Lake Louise in the slalom and giant slalom events. Growing up in Saskatchewan, my only skiing experience came on ‘the pimple of the prairie’, Mount Blackstrap. Blackstrap came into being for the 1971 Canadian Winter games when organizers moved a combination of soil and garbage out to Lake Blackstrap and made themselves a mountain. Downhill runs lasted a good 1-2 minutes depending on your skill level. I would usually take about 30 seconds down the hill before heading off-course to the bunny hill. This was due to my inability to do anything other than ‘pizza’ and ‘french fries’ on the slopes. I actually wasn’t accredited to ride the mountain itself but instead snuck on the chairlift to avoid the humiliation of being banished to the bunny hills. I eventually learned to make the left turn required to get down the rest of the run and did so without causing harm to myself or others. My one and only time skiing was in 1988, just before the Olympics.
When I watched those 1988 Olympics I was struck by Tomba and his relentless charge down the hills. He was suited in what appeared to me to be hockey equipment, complete with shin guards, a chest protector, wrist guards and a helmet. He raced overtop and through every gate with a violent, but rhythmic set of turns down the course. To my naïve eye it appeared that he missed every gate, but in fact he made every gate and did so over a second faster than everyone else. In a sport decided by hundredths of a second, it was a phenomenal feat.
Tomba the Bomb finished the Calgary Olympics with 2 Gold Medals and a failed attempt at a date with Katarina Witt. He followed that up with a Gold and a Silver at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville and a Silver at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer.
I have to admit that downhill skiing is one of those sports I only pay attention to at the Olympics. There always seems to be a couple of rogue heros waiting to be seen; Hermann Maier (the Hermanator), Bode Miller and Peekabo Street just to name a few.
Canada has had its share of Olympic glory with Kerrin Lee-Gardner taking home Canada’s first downhill Gold in 1992. Canada has won 10 alpine medals in the Olympics, though none since 1994. Included in those 10 are 4 Golds, which places Canada 10th all time in country Gold medals in the downhill events.
Looking at the 2010 edition of the downhill events, Canada looks to end its 16 year Gold medal drought with Manuel Osborne-Paradis leading the charge, coming home to compete after 2 World Cup wins this season. He was raised on the slopes of Whistler so he might just give Canada a Gold. He ranks 3rd in the World Cup Standings in the downhill and 7th in the Super G.
Looking at the possible favourites as listed by someone without a clue, it looks like we will again be seeing a lot of Austria and Switzerland on the men’s side, with Bode Miller still around but not really making much noise. Lindsey Vonn of the USA leads the ladies into the event with Canada’s Emily Brydon sitting in 5th place in this year’s World Cup downhill standings.
Lastly, it is interesting to note that there will be an Iranian skier, Marjon Kahlor, who will be Iran’s first woman to compete in the Winter Games in the Slalom and Giant Slalom. She isn’t listed in the top 125 in the World Cup standings so I would not expect much, but she will be another great Olympic story.