When Jack Crawford battled for a hard-fought bronze medal in the men’s combined in Beijing last week, he kept Canadians and ski racing fans glued to their devices, including his legion of friends and followers at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
And before you know it, Crawford, along with his Olympic teammates and fellow Whistler alum Broderick Thompson and Brodie Seger, were right back where it started … in Whistler presenting medals to aspiring ski racing stars at the Janyk Cup.
“It was so magical,” said Mike Janyk, the clubs executive director and former World Cup skier. “To have them right back here connected to the grassroots right after they were on TV was so spectacular.”
Janyk explained that it’s rare for athletes to reconnect with their clubs so soon after a major event like the Olympics. “We saw it in the faces of the kids, the parents and the coaches,” he said. “That energy is so cool to share with everyone, I’m almost speechless about how amazing it was.”
The Whistler club had four skiers representing Canada at the Olympics, including the entire men’s downhill team. Jack Crawford’s bronze was the first Olympic medal for the Canadian alpine team since Jan Hudec’s bronze in Sochi 2014 . Earlier in the week Crawford – who came to Whistler as a teenager from Toronto and the Georgian Peaks Ski Club – finished fourth in the men’s downhill and sixth in super-G, agonizingly close to the podium in both races.
Seger blazed to the third fastest time in the super G portion of the combined and eventually finished ninth after the slalom event. Broderick Thompson finished eighth in both the downhill and combined, capping a solid week for the Canadian men’s speed team.
On Thursday, Whistler’s Marielle Thompson executed a come-from-behind silver medal in the women’s ski cross in Beijing, adding to her massive collection of international hardware. It is the second Olympic medal of the 29-year-old’s career after winning gold in the event at Sochi in 2014. Thompson, sister to Broderick, is considered one of the best skiers to ever compete in ski cross, collecting 50 World Cup medals, two world championship medals and three overall World Cup crystal globes.
Winning at all levels
Now as a spectator, Janyk soaked in the Olympics.
“In one way it’s nice to not have to feel the pressure directly knowing what it’s like to have to perform,” Janyk said. “It was really exciting and I was super stoked … and also feeling for them at times but they really got us on our feet.”
A former slalom specialist, Janyk was impressed with the competition level of the slalom in the combined. “For Jack to put down that run was incredible, I actually thought he was going to beat Kilde … It’s fun to see someone so connected to the snow like he was. He was on, making it look effortless and every time he came out of the start he looked like one of the best in the world, which he clearly is now.”
Meanwhile on the NorAm tour, Whistler alumna Stefanie Fleckenstein sits in second overall in the NorAm standings with 10 podium finishes in 13 starts in NorAms races this season. Fleckenstein, who currently races with the International Ski Racing Academy, has been focused on the World Cup speed tour as well to gain valuable experience, learn the race tracks and regain a spot on the Canadian national team.
Another Whistler racer Cameron Alexander scorched a recent Europa Cup series in Kvitfjell, Norway, winning a downhill and finishing second the next day, followed by a second and fifth place in the super G races. He’s currently in fifth place in the overall Europa Cup downhill standings.
Cameron’s younger brother Kyle, has collected nine NorAm top fives this season, including four wins and currently sits second in the overall Nor Am standings. And Brodie Seger’s brother Riley, splitting his time between the University of Denver and the Canadian national team, has collected six NorAm top fives and three podiums on the NCAA tour this season.
Asher Jordan, a slalom skier out of Whistler, has collected five NorAm podiums this season and sits in second overall in the NorAm slalom standings, in addition to World Cup starts in Adelboden, Kitzbuhel and Schladming.
You get the point.
Whistler’s secret sauce?
The Whistler Mountain Ski Club has a rich history dating back to the 1970s and have had a steady flow of ski racers reaching the provincial and national teams ever since. Starting with Dave Murray in the 1970s, to Rob Boyd in the 1980s, Allison Forsyth and Britt Janyk in the 1990s, Mike Janyk, Manny Osborne-Paradis, Morgan and Conrad Pridy and in the 2000s, to today with seven skiers on the Canadian national team and three on the BC provincial team.
In the Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin, a “wall of fame” is proudly featured, with current and former national team members. The wall is large.
“There’s a deeply embedded culture in this community around ski racing,” Janyk explained.
Janyk believes one of the key drivers of this culture stems from the willingness of the Whistler community to take on massive events, like World Cups, the Olympics in 2010 and calendar mainstays like the Whistler Cup. He believes these events propel the club and inspire the youth.
“I was on my Dad’s shoulders when Rob Boyd won,” he said, referring to Boyd’s historic men’s downhill win in 1989 to become the first Canadian male racer to win a World Cup downhill in his home country. “And then I got my first signature by Kristian Ghedina in the 1990s at the World Cup here, then later as first year FIS racer I foreran the World Cup.”
“In 2010 at the Olympics in Whistler, how old were Cam and Kyle, Brodie, Riley and Asher? They were that 10-year-old on their parents shoulders watching their heroes.
“Those events, which are an extension of the club and the community and the parents … the will of people who put on these unbelievable undertakings of volunteerism. Talk about community building.”
Janyk commented that beyond marquee events and volunteerism, creative coaches within the club (current and past) have been a major driver of a winning culture which continues to inspire the next generation.
“When I came through the club we had a strong group of kids together and an equally strong group of coaches and we were all ready to push,” he said. “I don’t know how exactly it started and it was probably an organic growth of culture which came from creative coaches and volunteers ready to raise the bar.”
Whistler, the ‘Norway’ of North America?
When the Winter Olympics wrapped up on the weekend, Norway stood at the top of the standings, outpacing much larger countries like the U.S., Russia and Canada – despite having a significantly smaller population – you can’t help but think, how do they do it?
And more to the point of this article, is the Whistler Mountain Ski Club the “Norwegians” of ski racing in North America?
The Norwegian sports culture is proving to be unmatched yet simple, at least at present. They have created a pipeline of skiing stars that recharges and replenishes at an exceptional rate. They are so dominant in cross country and biathlon that some countries have conceded gold, opting for a strategy focussed on targeting silver and bronze.
The Norge’s collected three alpine medals in alpine, compared to one each for the U.S. and Canadian alpine teams – Ryan Cochran Siegle, men’s super G silver and Jack Crawford men’s combined bronze (although Alpine Canada would claim Marielle Thompson’s silver in the women’s ski cross to make it two).
Of further interest, 99 Norwegians competed in Beijing, compared to 223 for the Americans and 215 for the Canadians.
The Beijing Olympics came to a close last weekend, setting the stage for the Paralympics beginning in early March, where the Whistler Mountain Ski Club shifts its attention to another world star; Mollie Jepsen, who was a breakout star at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics, winning a gold, silver and two bronze medals at her first Games as an 18-year-old.
The Whistler Mountain Ski Club trophy case continues to grow.
– This article originally appeared on skiracing.com