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LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Breakout world championship results this year by Jack Crawford and Brodie Seger indicate the rebuild of the Canadian men's downhill team may be accelerating.
Seger, 25, and Crawford, 24, see those results as a springboard into an Olympic Games season that starts with Friday's World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Alta.
A second downhill is Saturday followed by Sunday's super-G.
The retirements of world champion Erik Guay and world championship medallists Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Dustin Cook in recent years gave way to a men's downhill squad with an average age of 24 attempting those same heights.
Just four months apart in age, Toronto's Crawford and Seger, from Whistler, B.C., are works in progress in downhill. They're challenging the best skiers in the world in super-G with their technical talents, however.
"Jack and I are kind of similar that way in that we've always been slightly more technical speed skiers," Seger explained. "We might struggle sometimes more on the glidier downhill courses, flatter terrain."
Racing with a metal plate in his reconstructed shoulder, Seger was fourth in super-G in February's world championship in Cortina, Italy. The Canadian finished four hundredths of a second off the podium.
A super-G medal in Cortina, co-host of the 2026 Winter Games, was Crawford's goal.
Thwarted in that bid, Crawford recovered by placing fourth the following day in alpine combined, which is the combined time of a super-G run and a slalom. He posted the fastest time in the super-G leg.
"It just gives us confidence," Crawford said. "It shows us what we're actually capable of.
"After world champs, I definitely think Brodie feels the same way, coming fourth . . . it hurts a little bit, but when it comes to confidence, it really helps to show that we're not that far away, and the podium is just around the corner."
Last year's World Cup in Lake Louise was cancelled due to COVID-19, which denied Canada's young skiers the chance to race on home snow.
Seger crashed and blew out his shoulder in the season's first downhill in Val-d'Isere, France.
A hook plate surgically implanted in his shoulder for stability made skiing and sleeping uncomfortable, but he was fixated on racing in Cortina.
"Having never been through that whole injury process before and getting back in the game, I was extremely determined more than anything to come back strong right off the bat," Seger said.
"That return to racing was a huge learning experience. I was completely focused on what I needed to do to get back to that. I wasn't in the middle of the season worrying about results, worrying about my ranking or anything like that. It was just one step at a time, what do I need to do in this rehab?"
The first three super-G starters in Cortina didn't cross the finish line. Drawing the No. 4 start bib, Crawford made it to the bottom and communicated intel up the mountain via radio to Seger with instructions on navigating the trickiest section.
"It was an extremely difficult position for him to be starting that early, being in that position for the first time really in his career and dealing with all sorts of chatter over the radio," Seger said.
"The report he was able to give back up to the rest of us after his run was key, and it definitely felt like a team effort that day."
Crawford says he felt more relaxed heading into the following day's alpine combined.
"It was a scenario where my stress levels and everything was just low and I came in confident," he said. "I just skied the way I had been in training leading into the races and that set me up for a pretty good day."
Men's speed coach John Kucera, the 2009 world downhill champion, wants continued improvement out of both racers in super-G and downhill this season.
"Brodie and Jack have good start positions in super-G, so that puts them in a position where they can be competitive," the Calgarian said.
"We're a group now that's targeting top-15, top-10 type results. We're not here anymore just to sneak into the points. We do still need to scrap it out a little bit in downhill."
The Cortina course was unfamiliar to international racers, which will also be the case in next February's Winter Olympics in Beijing.
"We're all going to be going to China blind and then nobody's really got the advantage in a sense," Kucera said. "When you have a young group, it's almost better in some ways to kind of go in there with no expectations.
"We know it's supposed to be a difficult and technical hill, which is something that also kind of plays more into our hand a little bit, rather than a big, open glide track."
Jeffrey Read of Canmore, Alta., Cameron Alexander of North Vancouver, B.C., and Broderick Thompson of Whistler, B.C., join Seger and Crawford on Friday's start list in Lake Louise.
Veteran racer Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., wasn't named to the Alpine Canada's squad this season, but will compete in downhill.
The third downhill training run Thursday was cancelled "to preserve the conditions of the slope," FIS said.
Heavy snowfall began blanketing the ski resort in Banff National Park on Thursday with 25 centimetres predicted to accumulate by Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press