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Canada’s skiing veterans older, wiser, but still reckless

Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Vancouver churns through a training run at Lake Louise on Wednesday. The Thursday training was cancelled because of a power problem affecting the lift to the start hut.


Manuel Osborne-Paradis talks of learning more about himself and of taking care of his body to extend his career in ski racing.

All very adult, but he hasn't completely outgrown the man who celebrated the Calgary Stampede two years ago, by climbing on the back of a party bus and falling off. He sustained road rash on his bottom severe enough to put him in the hospital.

Winning downhill races requires recklessness, so Osborne-Paradis isn't willing to let the foolhardy part of himself disappear completely. "You can't kill that," he said. "You can scrape a bit of him off, but you can't kill him."

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His Canadian teammate, Jan Hudec, doesn't want to see it disappear either because that devil-may-care ingredient is necessary when attempting speeds that are literally breakneck.

"We all hope he has pre-road-rash Manny left in him," Hudec said. "Besides the personality and the energy it brings to the team, I think it's part of his winning attitude.

"I'm a little bit the same way. I live my life pretty loosey-goosey by the seat of my pants. I don't plan ahead, but it works for me for skiing. That's how I race as well. I live in the moment. Manny is fairly similar that way."

Erik Guay, Hudec and Osborne-Paradis are the Canadian men's downhill team's decorated elder statesmen at the season-opening World Cup in Lake Louise. (John Kucera would also be included in that group if he wasn't sidelined with an inner-ear condition.)

The downhill is Saturday, followed by Sunday's super G. Training was cancelled Thursday because of a power problem affecting the lift to the start hut.

Repairs didn't leave enough time to get 91 racers from the top to the bottom, although the competitors were able to free ski the lower sections of the course. Guay had the fastest time in training last Wednesday, with Osborne-Paradis and Hudec also in the top 10.

Guay and Hudec, both 32, and Osborne-Paradis, 29, have stood on World Cup podiums multiple times during their careers. They've morphed from guys who just wanted to ski fast to men running their individual ski empires of businesses, sponsorships and charities.

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"Business, families, girlfriends, fiancees, wives, we didn't even know what those words were and how to use them five years ago," Osborne-Paradis said.

"You know, young and dumb. It's a different time of your life. There's guys who are 36 in the race and there's guys who are 20, and you can totally tell the difference."

How to square their adult responsibilities with a certain disregard for their own safety on the mountain is a balancing act, Hudec says.

"I think the older you get, the more cherished it becomes and you put it in your backpack in a safety deposit box and you carefully bring it to the hotel and you're like, 'Don't lose this. It's my recklessness. If I lose this, I'm screwed,'" he said.

"You have to leave it at home when you go to the store or your business and you're telling people to be responsible and be on time. They can't know you're that person on the hill. It's actually a really funny challenge."

Osborne-Paradis of Vancouver returned last season from a catastrophic knee injury suffered in January of 2011. Hudec, from Calgary, has undergone seven knee surgeries, including six on the same knee.

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Injuries plant seeds of doubt that have to be overcome in the start hut. Bravado helps get past the mental barriers to 130 kilometres per hour.

"I think there's a lot of fear, but you learn to adapt to that," Osborne-Paradis said. "Recklessness for sure, it's the only way to win.

"You can ski pretty and have a good run and come 20th your whole career if you wanted to. To win, you need to be taking chances and you need to risk the fact that you might end up in the [safety] nets. That's the only way to win."

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