Canadian skiers Remme, Gagnon pursue downhill gains for combined success
Marie-Michele Gagnon, of Canada, soars down the course in the final training run for the women's FIS World Cup downhill races in Lake Louise, Alta., Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
LAKE LOUISE, ALTA. -- Canada lacks a classic downhiller in women's ski racing, but speed is vitally important to the all-rounders on the national alpine team.
Roni Remme of Collingwood, Ont., and Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., have stood on the World Cup podium in alpine combined.
That event is a slalom race and a downhill race with the fastest aggregate time of the two determining the winner.
The world governing body of skiing considered phasing combined out.
Combined remains on the program, however, of both the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing and the 2021 world championships in Cortina, Italy.
That's good for Remme, Gagnon and, when she's healthy again, Valerie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, Que.
The trio embraces the challenge of skiing fast in both slalom and downhill to contend in alpine combined.
"It favours a skier that can kind of do it all," Remme said. "Canadians try to pride ourselves on that. We don't want to specialize. We want to keep pushing where ever we can."
Both of Gagnon's career World Cup victories are in combined, and she's also won a pair of bronze medals in slalom.
Remme was a silver medallist in combined in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, last season for her first career World Cup podium. She also placed fifth in the discipline in February's world championships.
The 23-year-old is coming off a career-best seventh place in slalom Sunday in Killington, Vt.
Grenier was sixth in combined at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
She's currently sidelined rehabilitating a knee injury sustained at the world championship.
Gagnon, Remme and Toronto's Candace Crawford make up the host Canadian contingent racing the season-opening downhills Friday and Saturday in Lake Louise, Alta.
Norway's Kajsa Vickhoff Lie was fastest in Thursday's training run ahead of Austrians Tamara Tippler and Nina Ortlieb.
Emily Brydon was the last Canadian woman to stand on the downhill podium at Lake Louise, finishing second and third in 2009.
The podium is a tall order for the Canadians this year, but Lake Louise gives Gagnon and Remme the downhill mileage they require to keep up their speed for the combined.
Their slalom talents make them more suited to Sunday's super giant slalom, or super-G.
Gagnon was 36th in Thursday's training after placing 20th on Tuesday. Wednesday's training was cancelled because of too much snow.
Needing a breather after Killington, Remme didn't participate in the first training run. She was 44th Thursday, while Crawford was 49th.
"I haven't been on downhill skis since April," Remme said. "For me, this is a big jump. I definitely don't feel confident on that run I just took.
"I've been training slalom a lot so feeling pretty comfortable and confident in slalom, but coming into this week for sure has me more on my toes.
"There's some big speed races coming up for me this month, so every day is another opportunity to build and get more comfortable."
Gagnon suffered season-ending knee and shoulder injuries crashing in a Lake Louise training run two years ago. She wasn't able to compete in the 2018 Winter Games.
The 30-year-old remains determined to make downhill gains in her second season since the injuries.
"It was pretty intense all of last year on the speed side," Gagnon said. "My body language was not agreeing with my mentality in the start hut.
"I overcame my fear, but I needed mileage to get over that. I had come back from injuries in the past on the tech side and I find it's so much easier to come back from an injury on the tech side than on the speed side.
"I'm hoping that this project of speed will be over the next three years until the Olympics. Build every race and learn a lot."
Lake Louise hosted its first World Cup in 1980 when Steve Podborski, Ken Read and Dave Irwin -- known as the Crazy Canucks -- raced a men's downhill.
The mountain resort in Banff National Park west of Calgary has been the site of 28 women's races and 20 men's since then.
Defending overall World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S., and Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria are among the women to watch in Lake Louise.
Schmidhofer won both downhills in 2018 en route to claiming her first career crystal globe as the season's downhill champ.
She was fourth in Thursday training, while Shiffrin was 15th.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 5, 2019.