Marie-Michèle Gagnon will lead Canada's women's alpine team to Sochi.Following on the heels of last week's announcement of the three male alpine skiers who had already qualified for the Sochi Olympics, Alpine Canada announced the three women who have already earned berths at an event in Quebec City Thursday. Marie-Michèle Gagnon (Lac-Etchemin, Quebec), Brittany Phelan (Mont Tremblant, Quebec) and Larisa Yurkiw (Owen Sound, Ontario) have been named to lead the Canadian team into Russia. Others could still potentially join them, as the qualification process extends through January 26, but these three represent Canada's best medal chances in women's alpine skiing—and for the first time in a long while, those chances aren't insignificant. While this is a young team (Yurkiw's 25, Gagnon is 24 and Phelan is 22), these skiers all already shown impressive potential on the World Cup circuit, and they might even have a chance to break Canada's 22-year medal drought in women's alpine skiing.
Gagnon has already broken one long-standing drought, as she picked up Canada's first gold ever in a World Cup super combined event last weekend at Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria. That win also made her the first Canadian woman in 30 years to to earn any level of medal in a World Cup combined event. (Combined events mix downhill or super-G runs with slalom; the traditional combined involved one downhill run and two slalom runs, while the super combined, introduced in 2005, involves one downhill or super-G run and one slalom run.) Gagnon's win last weekend marked her first career victory in any discipline on the World Cup circuit as well, but it may well not be her last. Most top-tier alpine skiers tend to specialize in one or two disciplines, but Gagnon has competed in all five, and she's the reigning national champion in slalom, giant slalom and super-G. She's recorded an impressive amount of top-10 finishes across disciplines on the World Cup circuit, and she may have a chance to do even bigger things in Sochi. She's currently seventh in the overall World Cup points standings and is fourth in the slalom standings.
Phelan's the youngest member of this team, but she's already achieved impressive results too. She tends to excel in the slalom and the giant slalom, and she recorded six top-30 finishes on the World Cup circuit in 2012-13, including a top-10 finish. She's done even better this year, picking up a 10th-place result in Zagreb, Croatia and a 11th-place showing in Lienz, Austria to nab the two World Cup top-12 finishes required for qualification. She's an emerging young talent who could come through in a big way for Canada.
Yurkiw's story may be the most intriguing, as she almost didn't get here. She missed the 2010 Olympics thanks to a horrific 2009 crash that saw her tear her ACL and MCL and damage other ligaments in her left knee, and had a hard time bouncing back. Her World Cup record before this season wasn't all that remarkable, and Alpine Canada dropped her funding after last season to focus on younger skiers who were seen as better medal threats in their disciplines, but she managed to raise $150,000 on her own to compete on the World Cup circuit. She's the lone Canadian woman currently competing in downhill at the World Cup level (the discipline that produced Canada's last medal in women's alpine skiing, Kerrin-Lee Gartner's gold in 1992), and she's done exceptionally well, tying for seventh place (the highest World Cup finish of her career) in Lake Louise at the start of the season and then picking up a sixth-place finish in Austria last weekend to punch her ticket to Sochi. It's been a long and hard road for her, as CBC's Scott Russell writes:
Yurkiw's referring to the fact that she's had to take control of her own destiny in more ways than one. In order to fund her Olympic aspirations she's personally raised more than $150,000 and essentially gone knocking on doors to find private individuals and businesses to back her. She calls it a risk because just prior to the Vancouver Olympics she tore up her left knee in as massive crash at Val d'Isere, France and took nearly four years to overcome her lingering fears and get back to racing Read More »from Marie-Michèle Gagnon, Brittany Phelan and Larisa Yurkiw named to Olympic women’s alpine team