Elite Amateur Sport Skiing

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Ottawa’s alpine skiing past comes to the forefront at 2023 world championships

By Martin Cleary

The National Capital Region has always had a rich sporting history and that certainly includes the multitude of achievements by members of the alpine skiing community.

The names are synonymous with Canadian sport history greatness – Anne Heggtveit, Ken Read, Judy Crawford, Paul Kristofic, Kate Pace, Laurie Graham, Betsy Clifford, Lucile Wheeler and Nancy Greene.

While all these skiers have long since retired from entering the race start hut (Kristofic is still coaching), their names came to the forefront of my High Achievers radar during the world alpine ski championships in Courchevel and Meribel, France, Feb. 6-19.

Read and Crawford kept a close eye on the championships as they had family members racing for medals and stepping onto the podium. The other retired skiers were remembered for historical context reasons to add colour to the stories of Canada’s record-setting performance at the 47th worlds.

The Canadian alpine ski team executed like none of its predecessors and finished in fifth place in the medal standings based on the number of gold medals won. Canada captured two golds, two bronzes and its four trips to the medal podium were unprecedented for the national team at the world senior championships.

James (Jack) Crawford of Toronto won the men’s super-G gold medal and Laurence St-Germain of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, PQ., wrapped up the women’s program at worlds by capturing the slalom title.

North Vancouver’s Cameron Alexander was the bronze medallist in the men’s downhill. In the mixed team parallel slalom event, Britt Richardson and brothers Erik and Jeffrey Read, all of Canmore, AB., and Valérie Grenier of St-Isidore, ON., earned the bronze.

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While Switzerland (3-3-1-7) and Norway (2-3-4-9) placed one-two respectively in the FIS medal standings, Canada’s four medals was equal to two other nations, which had a higher silver content – United States (2-2-0-4) and Italy (2-1-1-4).

Canada’s previous best world championships in terms of medals was three in 2017 at St. Moritz, 1968 at Grenoble and 1958 at Badgastein.

Canada’s achievements from its men’s and women’s programs produced some fascinating facts discovered by Ottawa’s Michael Christie of SportsResearch International Inc.

His detailed research has created many interesting, I-didn’t-know-that Canadian skiing tidbits and I thought it’s well worth sharing. So, here goes.

Judy Crawford Rawley knows what it’s like to ski in the world championships and perform well, having placed fourth in downhill in 1970 at Val Gardena, Italy, and fourth overall in combined in 1974 at St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Jack Crawford. Photo: GEPA / Alpine Canada

And now she gets to celebrate the joy of being a fan and supporter of her nephew Jack.

If you compare the lives of Jack Crawford and teammate Alexander, there are many similarities, right down to winning world championship medals.

Crawford joined Erik Guay of Mont Tremblant, PQ., (2017) as the only Canadians to win the world men’s super-G title.

Competing in his first world championships, Alexander scored the bronze medal in the men’s downhill, which produced yet another similarity in their two lives.

They won their world medals in Courchevel as members of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. They were both born on a Saturday in May, 1997 – Crawford on May 3rd and Alexander on May 31st.

The May birthday list for the Canadian team also includes Erik Read on May 31st, Richardson on May 25th and St-Germain on May 30th. Canada’s world championship honour roll of medallists also has three other significant May birthdays – Kathy Kreiner on May 4th, Jim Hunter on May 30th and Nancy Greene on May 11th.

Greene was born in Ottawa in 1943, but only lived here briefly. She returned to the capital to serve as a Senator in the Senate of Canada from 2009-18.

Crawford’s super-G gold-medal effort also came on Thursday, Feb. 9th, which was the fifth time a Canadian skier had won a world title on the fifth day of the week.

The other Thursday world champs were Clifford in the women’s giant slalom in 1970, Melanie Turgeon in the women’s downhill in 2003 and Pace in the women’s downhill in 1993.

A two-time Olympian, Clifford was the youngest skier to win a world championship in 1970 at the age of 16. She also had that same age distinction when she competed at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics at 14. At the 1974 worlds, Clifford won the women’s downhill silver medal.

Born in North Bay, ON., Pace has lived more than 25 years at White Lake, ON., with husband Dr. Mark Lindsay. She has been vice-president of Lindsay Sports Therapy since 1998. White Lake is about 88 kilometres from Ottawa in the Ottawa Valley.

St-Germain’s slalom gold medal and Crawford’s super-G gold gave Canada a rare honour – having a men’s and a women’s skier win a title at worlds in the same year. They also had never won a World Cup race in any discipline before winning at worlds.

If you like arithmetic sequences, on Feb. 17th, St-Germain, wearing bib No. 18, won Canada’s 19th career medal at worlds. Her win was the first by a Canadian woman at worlds in 20 years.

Turgeon won the women’s downhill at the 2003 worlds in St. Moritz and was Canada’s oldest female to win a world title at 26 years and 112 days. But St-Germain eclipsed that record being 28 years and 264 days old on Feb. 18th.

St-Germain also became the first Canadian to win the women’s slalom worlds title in 63 years. Her unbeatable two-run effort put her right beside all-around skier Heggtveit.

Anne Heggtveit. Photo: COC

When Heggtveit won the 1960 Winter Olympic slalom gold medal, the FIS also awarded her the world championship gold medal. At the end of the Games, she also earned the FIS world combined gold medal for winning the slalom and placing 12th in both the downhill and giant slalom.

“It’s kind of a relief,” Heggtveit said in a phone interview about St-German becoming the second Canadian woman to win the world women’s slalom title.

“It’s wonderful. It took a while, but it’s great to see. I watched her ski on YouTube. Her technique is fantastic. I’d love to pass on my congratulations to her, if I knew how.”

Heggtveit, who lives in North Carolina, heard about St-Germain’s golden performance from her daughter, who lives in London, England, and later read reports on Facebook.

Ken Read, a former member of the Ottawa Ski Club at Camp Fortune, had two reasons to celebrate during the worlds as his sons Erik and Jeffrey formed half of the bronze-medal-winning Canadian team for the mixed team parallel event.

The Read brothers entered the FIS history book as the first family members on the podium in that event. At the 2005 worlds, brother and sister Andreas and Martina Ertl of Germany were gold medallists in the nations’ team event.

Erik became the third Canadian to earn more than one medal in the same event. At the 2015 worlds, he helped Canada to the team silver medal. Guay accomplished that feat in 2011 and 2017 in the downhill with respective gold and silver medals.

Wheeler was the back-to-back women’s downhill champion in 1956 and 1958. She was married to former CFL star lineman Kaye Vaughan, who played 12 seasons with the Ottawa Rough Riders. He died Feb. 5th.

Alpine skiing is a huge winter sport in Europe, so when two North Americans reach the medal podium in the same race, it’s a big deal.

Gerry Sorensen and Graham achieved that at the 1982 worlds as the respective women’s gold and bronze medallists. It also happened this year, when St-Germain won the women’s slalom and American Mikaela Shiffrin took silver.

Heggtveit and American Betsy Snite can relate to that as well, finishing first and second respectively at the 1960 Olympics/worlds in slalom. At the 1958 worlds, Wheeler and Sally Deaver of the United States were respective gold and silver medallists in the women’s giant slalom.

The world championships in France also had an Ottawa flavour on the American team. Paul Kristofics has been the head coach of the United States team for the past seven seasons. The University of Ottawa grad grew up in Ottawa and previously coached the National Capital Division team.

Kristofics worked at Alpine Canada for 21 years as an interim, holding various coaching roles and finishing as vice-president of sports responsible for alpine, ski-cross and para-alpine in his last three years before joining the American squad.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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 martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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