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In the 1980s, a wind of madness blew over the small world of Alpine skiing. A happy band of crazy Canadian downhillers erupted onto the Alpine skiing World Cup scene. Their nickname: the “Crazy Canucks”. The team consisted of Dave Murray, Ken Read, Steve Podborski and Dave Irwin. While they did not always win, their style was aggressive and direct, and their commitment total. But their falls were both spectacular and numerous. It was in tribute to this sometimes uncontrolled enthusiasm that a famous turn of the Lauberhorn course in Wengen was named “Canadian Corner”, as several of these daredevil downhillers indeed came to grief at this spot.
The four Crazy Canucks achieved 39 World Cup podium finishes and 14 wins. All of them took part in at least one edition of the Olympic Games, and in some cases two, between Innsbruck 1976, Lake Placid 1980 and Sarajevo 1984.
At the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, Ken Read was the favourite. He had just won the last two races in Wengen and the Streif in Kitzbühel, the two greatest and hardest races on the circuit. His other achievements included the legendary course in Schladming, the “Verte des Houches” and Val d’Isère. But the Games are another story, and in the downhill Ken Read made a mistake. It was his training partner Steve Podborski, who raced just after him, who went on to take the bronze.
Once these crazy but talented downhillers retired, the Canadian men’s team had to look for new leaders capable of matching the Europeans and Americans. In 1994, Ed Podivinski confirmed the downhill victory he achieved a month before the Games, and won the bronze again in the Olympic downhill at Lillehammer, even though he had two years previously torn his knee ligaments at the Olympic Games in Albertville.
At the start of the 2009/2010 season, the Canadian team had high hopes for the Games in Vancouver, with the maple leaf downhillers once again placing high in the rankings. The “new Crazy Canucks”, as some people call them, are a very united and homogeneous group. They too are experienced skiers including exceptional athletes such as John Kucera, Erick Gay, François Bourque, Manuel Osbourne-Paradis and Robbie Dixon. Most of them will be going into these Games building on their experience from the 2006 Games in Turin. Unfortunately, as is often the case in skiing, injuries have eliminated some of the team members. This was true at the beginning of the season for John Kucera, reigning downhill world champion and the first Canadian to achieve this. A leg fracture means that he will not be competing in these XXI Winter Games, which will open on 12 February in Vancouver. But his team mates will be sure to give their utmost in their favourite event, to follow in the footsteps of their glorious predecessors.