ESPOT, Spain – High performance alpine skiers are certainly among the most courageous athletes on Earth.
It is not unusual for these athletes to attain highway speeds in the downhill as they barrel down steep runs from some of the highest peaks in the world while negotiating icy slopes and tight curves, sometimes in harsh weather as is the case here at the 2023 Para Alpine World Championships.
When Canadians first had stars in the sport back in the 1970s, they were named the Crazy Canucks. And athletes do it over and over again, even after injuries.
But it’s the norm in the sport since injuries are part of the game. That’s the case with Canadian Para alpine skiers Kurt Oatway of Calgary and Frédérique Turgeon of Candiac, Que., who both missed the Beijing Paralympics last March after injuries sustained in training incidents.
But on Monday, there they were in the start gate for their Super G races to open the world championships. The weekend races were postponed due to poor weather which has made the courses treacherous for the competitors.
Both Oatway and Turgeon were fifth in their Super G races.
Oatway, the 2018 Paralympic Games men’s sit ski Super G champion, was involved in a nasty crash at the 2022 world championships in Norway, held less than two months before the Paralympic Games. He broke his collarbone, three ribs, lacerated a lung, and tore two ligaments in his shoulder.
“First day of speed racing after the delays and it showed,” said Oatway on Monday after the opening race. “My skiing has some room for improvement as I made mistakes and got off the racing line.”
Three-time Paralympian Matt Hallat, the Para alpine high performance director for Alpine Canada, has experience with coming back from injury from his skiing career.
‘’It takes some time and patience,’’ he said. ‘’We try to get the athletes as ready as possible when they come back for their first race. They have a lot of training heading into it, so the actual race feels like a race. When you’ve done it as much as Kurt and Frederique it’s not really as different as it ever was.’’
Turgeon, who skis on one leg in the standing event, suffered a quadricep muscle tear in downhill training in Beijing just two days before her first race. She underwent surgery in the spring and has made a successful return to competition this season.
She had not yet done a downhill since crashing into the nets at 90 kilometres/hour in Beijing – until this week. Originally scheduled for Saturday at the world championships, the downhill was postponed to Wednesday.
And she tackled it beautifully, winning a bronze medal.
‘’I feel a bit more hesitant about the downhill,’’ admitted Turgeon, now a four-time world championship medallist before the start of competition. ‘’But in training everything has gone very smoothly and I’m ready. The leg has responded well overall there was one race that my knee affected me but I’m confident.
‘’It’s a learning curve. I’ve had worst experiences in my life like the death of my father (in late 2018). In this sport you need to be resilient and to push ahead.’’
The 2023 Para Alpine Skiing World Championships are currently taking place in Espot, Spain. For more information, click here.