Thomsen punches ticket to Sochi with 12th in Kitzbühel
Canadian Cowboy from Invermere delivers breakthrough performance when it matters most
Ben Thomsen displayed nerves of steel to deliver a breakthrough performance when it mattered most on Saturday as he punched his ticket to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games with a dramatic 12th-place finish in the legendary Hahnenkamm downhill.
The 26-year-old from Invermere (pictured above) put aside a season of frustration to secure the top-12 result he needed to meet Tier 1 criteria for nomination to Canada’s Olympic team in what was the final downhill race before the qualification window closes.
Attacking from the back of the pack as the 50th racer to push out of the start gate, Thomsen – who was second in the Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia, in 2012 – roared down the Streif in a time of two minutes, 4.80 seconds. His teammate Manuel Osborne-Paradis, of Vancouver and Invermere, was 16th and Jeffrey Frisch, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 28th – his first top 30 World Cup result of the season.
“It’s been a whole season of just trying to get in the points. You lose so much confidence when you’re not getting results,” said Thomsen, whose best World Cup result this season prior to Saturday was a 37th-place finish in downhill in Bormio, Italy.
“I wanted to go out there and I wanted to get an amazing result. For me, 12th was an amazing result. It was just good enough – I’m so happy I wasn’t 13th! I would put it in the top five best runs of my life, feeling-wise.”
Thomsen became the newest member of the Canadian Cowboys – the exclusive group of Canadian alpine racers who have a World Cup podium – when he finished second in Sochi. Last season his best result was a 12th-place finish in Wengen, Switzerland, but it was this year’s struggles that had really shattered his confidence.
“I’ve spent a lot of time feeling good in races and wondering why it wasn’t coming together,” Thomsen said. “I’ve been trying to get this feeling all season. I was under an immense amount of pressure.
“I just told myself to ‘do what you’re meant to do.’ It was kind of a repeat of the Sochi run when I was going down the course and I didn’t have anything on my mind. Hopefully this is just like two years ago when I went on that run.”
Thomsen, small in stature but renowned for being fearless on the world’s most challenging downhills, went into the race knowing he needed a top-12. The alpine tier 1 qualification criteria for is two top-12s, with at least one from this season. When he crossed the finish line Saturday, Thomsen let out a yell that was a mixture of joy and relief.
“There’s just something about Kitzbühel. There are so many people here and they love ski racing so much,” Thomsen said of the legendary race, regarded as the most challenging downhill on the World Cup circuit.
“It’s been a tough year but the team is always right behind you, pushing you, supporting you. When you come through the finish area and you look over to your teammates and see them smiling and celebrating it’s really special.”
With Jan Hudec, of Calgary, Alta., sitting out the downhill as he recovers from a back injury and Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., playing safe and skipping the race after aggravating his knee, Osborne-Paradis was hoping to carry the team on his shoulders and secure a top-10 result.
“There’s two turns and I lost a lot of time just going a little wide. I need to have discussions with the coaches,” he said immediately after his run. “I need to find that balance. I’ve got to figure out what I’m doing.”
Osborne-Paradis, who clocked a time of 2:05.05, was disappointed with his result but thrilled for his teammate.
“Congratulations to Ben for solidifying his spot on the Olympic team,” he said.
A superb run from Austria’s Hannes Reichelt gave the huge crowd plenty to cheer about as he took the win in 2:03.38. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, so strong in the bottom section, was second in 2:03.59, while the USA’s Bode Miller – so commanding at the top – was third in 2:03.72. Svindal leads the downhill World Cup standings with 440 points, while Reichelt is second (360) and Guay sits fourth (207).
Frisch also had a breakthrough result Saturday with his first top-30 of the year, while Kitzbühel rookie Morgan Pridy, of Whistler, B.C., was 44th. His older brother Conrad skied out and into the nets but was fine, while Whistler’s Robbie Dixon didn’t start.
Next up is Sunday’s super-G, after which the Olympic qualification window officially closes. Osborne-Paradis, Hudec, Guay, Marie-Michèle Gagnon, Larisa Yurkiw and Britt Phelan have already been nominated to Canada’s Olympic team after meeting Tier 1 criteria. Several other spots are going down to the wire, with the full roster due to be officially confirmed early next week.
Story and images courtesy Alpine Canada Alpin