Osborne-Paradis and Canadian Alpine team brimming with medal confidence

By John Wawrow, AP
Monday, February 8, 2010

Canadian Alpine team brimming with confidence

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Manuel Osborne-Paradis isn’t shying away from the attention and high expectations of an entire nation as the Canadian Alpine ski team prepares for the Vancouver Games.

What began as a mundane, happy to be here-themed news conference on Monday, quickly turned into a show of confidence by a team eager to make the most of its home-slope advantage.

When asked about the favorite in the men’s downhill at Whistler on Saturday, Osborne-Paradis pointed to himself: “I think I’ve got a big advantage, because I’m skiing fast right now.”

As the overall buzz in Canada grows as the games draw near, there’s additional attention being paid to the Alpine team, and Osborne-Paradis in specific.

A two-time winner on the World Cup circuit already this season, Osborne-Paradis has a chance to become the first Canadian skier to win an Olympic medal since Edi Podivinsky won bronze at the Lillehammer Games in 1994. And no Canadian athlete won a gold medal in the two previous Olympics held in Canada — the Montreal Summer Games in 1976 and Calgary Winter Games in ‘88.

That’s a shutout Osborne-Paradis is very familiar with.

“I’ve heard that question a lot,” Osborne-Paradis said, before noting he hopes he doesn’t have to deal with the question ever again after Saturday.

Osborne-Paradis — or ‘Manny,’ as he’s called — has reason to be confident as he celebrated his 26th birthday Monday.

He grew up skiing on Whistler and is familiar with the mountain’s ever-changing weather conditions, including the blinding fog that occasionally shrouds the middle of the Dave Murray run, where the competition will take place.

Osborne-Paradis also has previous Olympic experience: he finished 13th in the downhill at the Turin Games in 2006. And then there’s the success he’s enjoyed this season, currently ranked third in the downhill, after finishing fifth last season.

“Right now, this is the best I’ve ever skied,” he said. “When you’re at a level you’ve never achieved before, I think it’s a lot easier to just be confident.”

Coach Paul Kristofic was impressed by what he heard from his top skier.

“That’s the kind of confidence you only get by having success. And this is a guy that can win any race he starts right now,” Kristofic said. “He’s the first guy that will tell you that pressure’s a privilege. If you come into this thing and the whole country is looking at you, they’re looking at you for a reason.”

Reminded that Osborne-Paradis now must meet those expectations, Kristofic shrugged. “That’s fine,” he said. “I have no problem with that.”

The team was to travel to Whistler later Monday and prepare for its first training runs on Wednesday.

Osborne-Paradis, who grew up in North Vancouver, was looking forward to making the familiar two-hour drive along the picturesque Sea-to-Sky Highway, which he last traveled over the summer to visit his parents.

“It’s kind of a humbling drive all the way up,” he said.

If all goes well, the trip back might be even more breathtaking.

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