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Osborne-Paradis wouldn’t miss worlds for the world

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

Manuel Osborne-Paradis skis during men’s downhill training on the Birds of Prey race course in Beaver Creek, Colo. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

Manuel Osborne-Paradis skis during men’s downhill training on the Birds of Prey race course in Beaver Creek, Colo. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

TORONTO - 

It’s often said that NHL hockey players are the toughest athletes in the world. The evidence presents itself almost every game when a player takes a shot to the face or gets crushed against the boards, only to return a few minutes later after being stitched or bandaged.

There’s no denying that you have to be one tough hombre to play hockey. But in my book, one group of athletes who are equal to NHL players in terms of toughness and guts are alpine ski racers.

Flying down a mountain side in excess of 150 km/h in a controlled fall is incredibly brave and risky. Pretty well every veteran skier on the World Cup circuit has suffered at least one major knee injury or worse. Canada will be short-handed at this week’s world alpine ski championships in Beaver Creek, Col., because of injury problems.

Canadian Olympic bronze medallist Jan Hudec suffered a torn meniscus racing the men’s downhill on Dec. 19 in Val Gardena, Italy, and had to undergo knee surgery for the eighth time in his career — the seventh surgery on his right knee alone. Yet the 33-year-old Calgary skier is adamant that he’ll be back to race next season, though he’ll miss this week’s worlds. Hudec won the bronze in Sochi last year despite almost not being able to walk a week before because of a bad back.

Also out of the worlds — which began with the women’s Super-G on Tuesday — is the most decorated alpine skier in Canadian history (22 career World Cup medals), Erik Guay, of Mt. Tremblant, Que. The 2011 world downhill champion is still rehabilitating after a pair of off-season knee surgeries last year. He also plans to return to the World Cup circuit, perhaps as early as later this month.

All of which leaves Manuel Osborne-Paradis as the big hope for Canada in Beaver Creek (along with Owen Sound’s Larisa Yurkiw on the women’s side). Osborne-Paradis, 30, has won 10 World Cup medals in his career, including three golds. He captured a silver in the downhill this season at Lake Louise, his first since 2010. Part of the reason for the slump was a crash he suffered at a race in Chamonix, France, on Jan. 29, 2011, when he was airlifted by helicopter and treated for a broken leg and torn knee ligament. He missed the 2011 worlds and the remainder of the 2011 World Cup season, as well as the 2012 season. But his performance in Lake Louise this season proved that he is still a force in downhill and in Super-G, though he isn’t considered a favorite in Beaver Creek this week because his style isn’t suited to the Birds of Prey course.

“It’s a tough course for me,” Osborne-Paradis said from his hotel room in Beaver Creek. “Just the steepness of it. That’s just never been where I excel. Other guys hit the steeps and that’s where they’re fastest and then they hit the flats and they can’t go anywhere. For me, I’m just totally the opposite. I have a better touch on the intermediate flat slopes and I can see the line a lot better and where to generate speed and where to take risks. That being said, it’s world champs and I’m going to push it. Here, it’s kind of like the Olympics and medals are all that count, so you see a lot of guys taking more risks and making mistakes and sometimes the doors open.”

Another reason why Osborne-Paradis may not be in top form is the fact that last month, in the span of three days, he crashed hard twice, first in Wengen, Switzerland, and then in a training run at the famed Kitzbuehel event in Austria. He also had a spill in December at a race in Santa Caterina, Italy, on Dec. 28. On his Twitter page two weeks ago, Osborne-Paradis posted a picture of himself with the caption: “There’s black and blue, then there’s black!!!” A huge black bruise covered his right side, from his waist down to his thigh. The fact that he’s hurtling himself down the side of mountain a couple of weeks later speaks of his toughness.

“I still have some swelling in my back that definitely hurts a lot in my tuck. And my hip’s still painful turning on my right ski a little bit. So it’s not an ideal situation. And you can only pop so many drugs before your race. But the races keep coming on and I need to be here,” he said. “It’s a bummer, but also I’m happy I crashed and nothing serious happened.”

His knees ached after his two spills but MRI’s revealed that there was no structural damage. Just a lot of pain.

“I feel better every day for sure, but a couple of crashes like that in a row and landing on the same hip takes its toil,” said Osborne-Paradis, who will compete in the Super-G tomorrow and the downhill on Saturday. “I was going probably 120 km/h in the first crash and 115 in the second and I stopped in 30 feet. It’s kind of like being in a car accident. It doesn’t heal up right away.”

So, Osborne-Paradis was asked, are ski racers as tough as NHL players? He could certainly make an argument for himself.

“I would say we’re in the group,” he said with a laugh. “Hockey players and the freestyle guys are really tough. I wouldn’t necessarily put us as the toughest. But you need to be tough to play this game.” 


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