It’s late morning during preseason for alpine skier Valérie Grenier, who enjoys sipping coffee on her day off in Colorado after a long sleep. After a walk and grocery shopping in Silverthorne with her Canadian teammates, a rest afternoon is planned.
Grenier is optimistic and relieved towards the end of another pain-free training camp in 2022, a big deal for those who have been following her career.
“I have a feeling I do [the same] Volume like everyone else and I can give my all every day,” Grenier said recently on the phone. “I feel so good and I’m grateful for it because I haven’t felt like this in a long time.”
Unfortunately, Grenier has one more World Cup race to go this season after failing in her inaugural run of the women’s giant slalom in Killington, Vt. apparently lost a lead. Last month she was scheduled to ride a GS in the World Cup opener which was canceled due to rain and warm weather in Solden, Austria.
This week Grenier arrived in Lake Louise, Alta. where scheduled Friday and Saturday departures and a Super-G Sunday will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports App and CBC Gem.
The 26-year-old has not competed in the Super-G since 2018 at the mountain resort in Banff National Park, when she finished fifth and 5-100ths of a second behind bronze medalist Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany.
Two months later, at the World Championships in Are, Sweden, Grenier broke his right leg in four places and his right ankle during downhill training at around 130 kilometers per hour. She required a second operation five months later when the bone failed to heal properly.
Almost four years after the crash, Grenier is ready to return to speed racing “properly” after a few unsuccessful attempts. After several surgeries, physiotherapy and COVID-19, she was back on skis on October 17, 2020 and finished 25th in the giant slalom in Sölden. But it was a different story a month earlier when Grenier stood on top of a mountain for her first training run after an injury and couldn’t slide out of the gate in Zermatt, Switzerland. The crash repeated in her head.
CLOCK | Grenier suffers a mental block after returning from injury:
The mental challenges forced Grenier to abandon thoughts of downhill or super-G and switch to giant slalom, a more technical and slower discipline. She ran 13 races before being disqualified at her second Olympics last February in Beijing after being caught by a gate just seconds before the end of her first run.
Attempting a Super-G on March 5, a “crazy scared” Grenier stopped halfway down an icy and bumpy track in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
“As much as I wanted to push through, you can’t unless you feel 100 percent and you’re moving forward so quickly,” said Grenier, who grew up in the farming community of St. Isidore, Ontario, east of Ottawa. “It was hard [mentally] to [stop] because that’s not me. I will keep going through everything, but at that moment there was no way.
“For a long time it seemed like I wasn’t getting back to my old self. Before my injury, I was the crazy one. I gave everything and didn’t think about the consequences.”
CLOCK | Grenier achieves the best result of his career on January 8, 2022 in Slovenia:
After Alpine Canada hired Karin Harjo as their women’s coach in April, she urged Grenier and her teammates to spend the summer at home after a long season. Grenier, who finished 12th in the World Cup GS standings, was soon back in the gym to get in shape physically for the 2022-23 season. She also did mental exercises to keep her focus throughout an entire race that had plagued her late in previous seasons.
In Colorado, Grenier continued her GS training and added a healthy Super-G diet to reaccustom herself to the speed and how the terrain “drives you around,” Harjo told CBC Sports. Grenier was feeling strong, not suffering a setback from the back problems that had plagued her last season and noting “great progress” from a mental point of view.
“It’s been so hard, up and down, since my injury,” said Grenier, whose only memory of the fall is having to loosen a stiff ankle or being uncomfortable in her ski boot every morning. “I felt so good in Colorado. Even when it’s dark [when] You can’t see holes in the snow, I don’t give it much thought [it].
I’m looking forward to giving it my all, taking chances and risks and seeing what happens.— Valérie Grenier of Canada at the Super-G race in Lake Louise, Alta.
“It’s not in my head to be scared. I’m having fun and thinking about what I’m working on. I feel like myself again.”
Grenier believes the 20-month layoff has made her a better athlete. She is more aware of the potential for injury while more calculated on the risks she takes during competition.
“I’m looking forward to giving it my all, taking risks and seeing what happens. I’m ready,” said Grenier, who competed in two FIS-level Super-G events last month at Copper Mountain in Summit County, Colorado.
Harjo, who has served as an assistant coach for the US women’s downhill team for each of the previous five seasons, admires Grenier’s determination and confidence.
“She is so keenly aware of space and time [on the hill] That’s good in this sport,” said Harjo, who also worked as an assistant to the American women’s slalom and giant slalom teams from 2015-2017. The back of her mind is amazing.”
“I’m not going on the podium”
Sunday’s Super-G comes almost eight years after the day of Grenier’s World Cup debut in Lake Louise on December 7, 2014, where she finished 32nd.
“[Lake Louise] has long [flat sections] at the bottom [of the course] which I think are my strengths,” she said. “Coming from the [huge] pitch [atop the hill] I am good in [maintaining my] Speed. I’m feeling good on the skis right now and it’s good to be on a steep course in the middle.
“I’m definitely not going to get on the podium because it’s my first Super-G World Cup in a while and I don’t want to put that much pressure on myself.”
Grenier is yet to win a medal in six and a half seasons at the circuit and finished fourth in giant slalom last January in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, equaling her best result of her career so far at a Super-G in January 2019 in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Italy.
Marie-Michèle Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., is returning to Lake Louise to compete in Downhill and Super-G after leading the Canadian team in ninth places each a year ago. On Harjo’s advice, the three-time Olympian has been dedicating more time to giant slalom in recent months to help her speed.
“I see it takes them to another level,” said the coach. “She was at Copper [Mountain] and had incredible downhill and super-G days.”
CLOCK | Gagnon 9th 2021 Lake Louise Departure:
As of Tuesday, Candace Crawford and Stefanie Fleckenstein were the other Canadians scheduled for both events this weekend.
Crawford’s best downhill finish at Lake Louise last year was 48th, while the 28-year-old Toronto native was 36th in Super-G. She finished second in a Nor-Am downhill at the resort west of Calgary and won the Super-G. The 2018 Olympian also competed in two other World Cup events last season.
An independent athlete running her own program this season, Fleckenstein, 25, has earned World Cup starts through her successes on the Nor-Am track. The three-time downhill champion from Whistler, BC, was on the podium seven times last season, finishing 38th in the downhill and 41st in super-G at the World Cup stop in Lake Louise. Fleckenstein was the top Canadian in the final practice run on Thursday 19th in 1 minute 51.06 seconds.
Live coverage of Friday’s downhill begins at 2:00pm ET and continues on Saturday at 2:30pm, followed by Sunday’s Super-G at 1:00pm