Contrasting Cowboys: The differences between Canada’s medal-chasing alpine men

If cowboys in the wild west come in all varieties, then maybe it makes sense the Canadian ski racing buckaroos are all so different.

A silver medallist at 2013’s test event in Sochi, Ben Thomsen is a ‘scrappy skier’ according to Jan Hudec, who along with Manny Osborne-Paradis are both unapologetic race horses. Using training runs to figure out the course. Erik Guay subscribes to the contrary, “I believe that it’s good to train like you race,” he says, “I like to approach every training run like it’s a race .”

On Tuesday in Sochi the Canadian Cowboys are shaking off a mini-sticks loss to the women’s hockey team, at the athletes’ village the night before. The guys are loose, they claim to have let the girls win. No confirmation yet from the opposing dressing room.

Erik Guay, Jan Hudec and Manny Osborne-Paradis are all veterans of the big show, with enough experience to know that over-thinking it can be costly, “We’ve just been having a good time and keeping it light, our time will come to get to business but in the past I think our fault was to keep it all business and no pleasure. Keeping it light has been good,” says Osborne-Paradis.

Later in front of a camera, Manny grins. He is humble but confesses to liking the spotlight. But mostly, the one he finds on snow. “There’s something about race day, pushing it, and putting it all on the line,” says the 29-year-old, who will turn 30 one day after Opening Ceremonies here.

“I thrive off the attention of the race. I’m able to zone it in and make sure I’m fully focused. If you’re going to crash you’d better crash on race day because nobody notices if you crash on a training run,” he continues.

Erik Guay is Canada’s most consistent performer, in a long time. Not without their own success, Osborne-Paradis and Hudec with their approach to racing are more like outlaws, whereas Guay is level and upright like a law-man. Though these references are indulgent, they fit. Skiing outlaws and law-men exist in the same speed-fuelled world.

John Kucera, Erik Guay, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Jan Hudec, Ben Thomsen

Members of the Canadian Cowboys pose for a photo in 2013

“If I’m really energized and really excited to get out of the start gate, typically I try to just calm myself down and get to a place where I can focus. On the contrary, if I feel that I’m really lethargic I try to pump myself up. I just try to find that balance between being ready and being focused and being dynamic,” says Guay.

He shakes off questions about his knee, an injury he calls a ‘thing of the past’. This seemed true all season, from a strong World Cup opener in Lake Louise then two podiums in December. But he missed Kitzbuehel in late-January, to preserve the knee.

Of Sochi, and on the joint, “My knee is doing great. I don’t want to put any negative thoughts in my head. I want to focus on the little things that I need to do to get a medal,” he adds.

Here in Sochi 26-year-old Ben Thomsen has answered many questions about the track, as one of the younger skiers, his teammates jokingly make him the spokesperson. He mentions feeling some pressure to perform, but doesn’t reveal a lot. “I don’t really remember too much,” he says of last year’s second place, “I didn’t sleep pretty much the whole week, that’s been the case so far. Sometimes when I don’t sleep it’s a good sign.”

Canada’s alpine wranglers will do some free skiing in the coming days, before getting serious…or comparatively relaxed, at training runs Thursday to Saturday. The men’s downhill is Sunday, February 9th.