HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
Sport: Para Alpine Skiing
Category: Men’s Standing
Residence: Gatineau/Whistler, B.C.
Local Club: Mont-Tremblant
By Martin Cleary
BEIJING BOUND: If para alpine skier Alexis Guimond could make one change to his sport, he would reduce the giant slalom to a single-run race instead of two runs, just like the downhill and super-G.
“Having two runs is quite tiring,” the Gatineau athlete said in a phone interview, after completing a Whistler, B.C., training camp and before heading to his second Paralympic Winter Games, which start Friday in Beijing.
“It’s a long process and makes for a long day. There are two (course) inspections and that makes for a bit of a long day. I don’t dislike it, but I find it long.”
Looking at that issue from another angle, the second run has been quite favourable to Guimond in the past.
If it wasn’t for a second run at his first Paralympics in 2018 at PyeongChang, he wouldn’t have won the bronze medal in the men’s standing giant slalom. His opening run of one minute, 8.23 seconds left him in sixth place. But he was untouchable in the second run, posting the fastest time of 1:05.44 for a combined clocking of 2:13.67, which earned him the bronze.
“In my (Paralympic) bronze-medal race, I didn’t have a great first run,” noted Guimond, who has muscular impairment as a result of a fall at six months of age, which resulted in paralysis on the right side of his body, and a stroke at age 12 that caused partial paralysis on the left side.
“But I rebounded in the second run,” he added. “I learned from my mistakes and pushed on my second run.”
Guimond’s second assault on the PyeongChang giant-slalom course left him only 0.18 seconds out of second place, and 1.20 away from the gold medal. It was Guimond’s only medal at the Winter Games, but he could have had as many as three as he recorded fourth-place results in both the downhill and super-G races. He was 0.12 seconds out of third place in the super-G, and seven-tenths of a second shy of the bronze in the downhill.
When the 2018 Winter Games ended, the Canadian Paralympic Committee presented Guimond the Best Paralympic Debut Award by a male athlete.
The 22-year-old also had a similar experience when he won the Paralympic Winter Games’ test event giant slalom in 2017 at PyeongChang. After finishing eighth in the first run and trailing by two seconds, Guimond attacked the second course, made the most of it and captured the race.
As Guimond makes the final preparations for his second Paralympics, he knows he has had a strong 2021-22 World Cup season, even though he labelled it “a rollercoaster.”
On the opening World Cup stop in Steinach am Brenner, Austria, in early December, he had a near perfect outing with three medals in three races. After winning bronze and then silver in back-to-back super-G races, he took silver in a giant slalom.
The three giant slaloms at St. Moritz, Switzerland, didn’t go as well as he would have liked. He didn’t finish the first two races, but placed fourth in the third technical race.
At the world championships at Lillehammer, Norway, in mid January, he showed more consistency and was close to another medal, placing fourth in the downhill and fifth in the giant slalom. He didn’t complete the super-G.
“My season has been a rollercoaster,” said Guimond, who had some pre-season training camps denied because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he took full advantage of every available opportunity. “I started strong with World Cup podiums. But I didn’t have good performances later with crashes and DNFs. But right now, the focus is on training and I’m having good training at Whistler. I will try to keep that momentum going at the Games.
“I was in a good spot (for the Austrian races). Sometimes things don’t happen the way you want. I started strong and I trained hard all summer. I was ready. The hill suited me. It was a good moment and time.
“There certainly have been bumps along the road. My skiing was there and it was unfortunate. It happens. The sport doesn’t always happen like you want.”
Guimond enters the Paralympics ready to challenge the world’s best. Having recorded six top-five results in his nine World Cup races, his International Paralympic Committee rankings reflect that: fourth in super-G, fifth in giant slalom and seventh in downhill.
Despite the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic, Guimond knows he is ready and has “done the hard work.”
“This year, there has been trouble with training. But my hard work over the years has kept me on track. I feel prepared and ready,” said Guimond, who began skiing at age four after seeing his older brother compete in races. “I took every opportunity to train that I could. When I couldn’t train on the slopes, I was in the gym.
“There have been big bumps in the road for every athlete. It has been tough, but we have tried our best to adapt. It’s not a disadvantage to us. Everyone is in the same boat. I was really diligent with my protocols and did my best to get to every training opportunity. I made the most of it. COVID is a learning curve for everyone. I learned so much and I’ve grown from it.”
Guimond is technically sounder and more mature than his first Paralympics four years ago. He also has added muscle mass and is 30 pounds heavier to improve his speed.
“I’ve grown as an athlete and a person. My frame is not as light. I’m a different animal. I bring a lot more to the table. I hope for a good fight,” he continued.
Guimond knows his competition well and is prepared to go head-to-head with Theo Gumer of Switzerland, a triple gold medallist at the 2018 Paralympics, France’s Arthur Bauchet, Switzerland’s Robin Cuche and Austria’s Markus Salcher.
“It will be a very ferocious battle,” Guimond emphasized.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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