Canada's Larisa Yurkiw wants to keep Olympic dream alive at Lake Louise | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Canada's Larisa Yurkiw wants to keep Olympic dream alive at Lake Louise

LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - As the host country, Canada could have as many as six women competing in the Lake Louise World Cup downhill races.

But there is just one and Larisa Yurkiw navigated a financial and logistical maze just to get to the start hut.

The 25-year-old from Owen Sound, Ont., will race in downhills Friday and Saturday even though she was dropped from the Canadian ski team after last season.

As Canada's lone female downhiller, Alpine Canada provides her with some race-day support, but Yurkiw was responsible for getting herself ready to race at Lake Louise.

Not ready to give up on her dream of competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Yurkiw raised the $150,000 she says it cost to pay for summer camps to Europe, training and coaching expenses, as well as her travel costs to World Cup races.

"I raised a ton of money and found some incredible sponsors to be able to do that," Yurkiw said. "This is an all-eggs-in-one-basket year."

Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany posted the fastest time in Thursday's final training run. Yurkiw was 24th.

American ski star Lindsey Vonn skipped training, but intends to race Friday. It will be the reigning Olympic champion's first race since tearing ligaments in her knee and breaking a bone in her leg at February's world championship.

Yurkiw earned her first World Cup top-10 result in 2009 and was a talented prospect behind Canadian team veterans Emily Brydon, Britt Janyk and Kelly VanderBeek.

But Yurkiw crashed during training in Val-d'Isere, France, on Dec. 16, 2009, and tore multiple ligaments in her left knee that required reconstructive surgery.

Not only was Yurkiw unable to race in the 2010 Winter Olympics, she couldn't compete on the World Cup circuit for two years. In the meantime, the retirements of Brydon, Janyk and VanderBeek left Canada thin in women's downhill.

Yurkiw was a one-woman Canadian team upon her return to the World Cup last season. She had a single top-30 result. Yurkiw finished 23rd in super-G and 28th in downhill at the world championship.

Those results didn't meet Alpine Canada's standards to continue funding her. The organization shifted its money to the men's downhill team and slalom racers Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., and Erin Mielzynski of Brampton, Ont.

Alpine Canada considers those skiers the most likely to win medals in Sochi.

"I had a door wide open to leave the sport," Yurkiw said. "I knew there was something that itched. It didn't feel quite complete."

She moved to Toronto in the spring to pound the corporate pavement and search out sponsors. To cut costs, she stayed with the family of a former Canadian teammate.

Without the support of national team staff, it was Yurkiw answering e-mails from Europe in the middle of the night to arrange the details of her summer camps there.

"April was a scary month," she recalled. "I thought 'I'm going to start this, but there may be a day when I have to close up shop.'

"I went at each day like that. 'If tomorrow is the day I can't go to a camp or book another flight, at least I know I can move on and be brilliant in my next chapter.' It just kept rolling."

Alpine Canada's primary criteria to be nominated to the 2014 Olympic team is a pair of top-12 results or one top-five in World Cup races.

At last week's season-opening downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., Yurkiw missed a gate in the women's downhill and was disqualified. She bounced back by finishing 15th in the super-G the next day.

"It felt like a win in a lot of ways," Yurkiw said.

Canada currently has just one women's downhill berth for World Cups after Lake Louise. Alpine Canada wants to reserve it for Gagnon.

The organization wants Gagnon racing downhills in January to prepare her for the Olympic combined event — a slalom and a downhill — in Sochi. Gagnon isn't racing the Lake Louise downhills, but will join Yurkiw for Sunday's super-G.

Hugues Ansermoz oversees the Canadian women's World Cup teams. He said the arrangement Alpine Canada struck with Yurkiw when she was dropped from the national team was she could race for Canada in Beaver Creek and Lake Louise.

In order for her to continue racing World Cups in Europe, she needs top-20 results. Yurkiw's super-G result in Beaver Creek means she can race that discipline in St. Moritz, France, next week.

Yurkiw can also qualify a second World Cup downhill berth for Canada if she finishes in the top 30 Friday or Saturday.

"She can help herself and help the team," Ansermoz said. "It's very important for us and for Larisa to get a spot here, so we don't have that problem in January."

If Yurkiw gets a top 30, but doesn't get into the top 20, Ansermoz said racing downhills in Europe is up for discussion.

Having to go it alone has felt liberating for Yurkiw in some ways. It forces to her concentrate each day on what she must do to extend her career. She hasn't had much time to obsess about Sochi.

"I put so much pressure on myself other years and it never worked, so I'm really happy to be enjoying myself this year," Yurkiw explained.

"I worked hard for something I believe in and now is my chance. I'm just going to go hard after great skiing and good results and hope that's enough."

"If I don't get chosen because they have other Canadians who are more worthy, I can't say anything at that point."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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