Is this the year for Canada’s ski outlaws?

They are one of the most decorated generations of ski racers in Canadian history. They’ve matched the Crazy Canucks in almost every way but one: winning an Olympic medal.

Will the Canadian Cowboys finally do it this season?

The road to Sochi begins with the Lake Louise Alpine Ski World Cup this week.

cowboyslogoYou have to be real good to become a Canadian Cowboy. And get yourself a custom skull and cross-skis belt buckle. There are enough Cowboys that it might seem that ‘real good’ is the benchmark for Canadian male alpine ski racers. Earning entry is straightforward. Podium at a World Cup, World Championships or the Olympics.

Six active skiers have done this, downhillers Erik Guay, John Kucera, Jan Hudec, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, newest addition Ben Thomsen and slalom ace Mike Janyk.


Stepping up on the day

The chance for success in Sochi is very real. Four current members of the Canadian Cowboys have World Championships podiums including John Kucera winning downhill gold in 2009, and Guay doing the same in 2011.

Kucera won’t be racing in Lake Louise this week, coming back from vestibular neuritis developed at a summer training camp in Chile. Despite this, the team is strong. The World Cup season is a chance to tune up, qualify for the Games and for younger skiers like Whistler brothers Conrad and Morgan Pridy, to push the veterans.

“There’s a lot of pride on the line. Anything less than a top 10 would be unsatisfactory. – Hudec

Opening the season on home snow also helps according to Jan Hudec, who won the downhill in 2007. “Lake Louise gives us home hill advantage. Friends and family are here and the race has a special energy you don’t get anywhere else,” he said.

The time between Lake Louise and when the team arrives at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre at Sochi 2014 will be critical, especially for Erik Guay who just returned to snow training last month.

“I’m not approaching Lake Louise with the goal of finishing 29th but if I do end up there, I haven’t skied a lot and I have some catching up to do.”

“My ultimate goal remains finishing on the podium at the Olympics. That being said, I think it’s important to have results beforehand.”

A new generation of excellence

There was a time between the Crazy Canucks and today when a Canadian on a World Cup podium was big news. Now it’s regular.

The murky story of the Canadian Cowboys name goes back to December 2006 and involves a cowboy hat, of course. Mike Janyk had made the podium in Beaver Creek, (U.S.A.) and rocked the stetson for the medal presentation. The next week in Val Gardena, (Italy) teammate John Kucera did the same thing. FIS journalist Patrick Lang wrote about it on both occasions and the legend came to life.

The always interesting Jan Hudec describes the name, “The Canadian Cowboys is a pride thing. It’s kind of an elite group of guys and the name means a lot to the guys who are part of the group,” he says. “We’re making a name for ourselves, generations after the Crazy Canucks have come and gone.

The Cowboys now have a display right next to the Crazy Canucks at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.


And it’s for good reason. The four primary members of the Canucks are Ken Read, Dave Murray, Dave Irwin and Canada’s Chef de Mission for Sochi 2014 Steve Podborski. Between them they have 39 World Cup podiums.

With two extra members the Cowboys have 38. Including Erik Guay and his 19 podiums, one shy of tying Steve Podborski’s all-time record of 20.

Podborski, Steve

It’s tricky to compare the generations. Ski racing is so different today than it was 30 years ago. But in sport, you can’t hide greatness, no matter what year it is. That’s why the Guay and Podborski conversation includes the easiest comparison between the Canucks and Cowboys: the defining nature of Olympic success.

And Guay has been close. He was fifth on two occasions in Vancouver 2010, and one-tenth of a second from bronze at Turin 2006.

But anyone has a shot. John Kucera isn’t shy about giving credit to the Crazy Canucks, who were the first Canadians to disrupt European dominance of the sport in the 70s and 80s.

“We are the next generation in alpine skiing and we want to take that next step that the Crazy Canucks took. We have a Crystal Globe, world championships, World Cup wins…we have everything apart from an Olympic medal – it really is the only thing we are missing. We all want an Olympic medal for ourselves and for our country.” says Kucera.