If and when Erik Guay breaks Steve Podborski’s long-standing record for World Cup podium finishes, Podborski will be the first to applaud the younger skier.
Best known as a former member of the “Crazy Canucks,” Podborski is also a longtime sport volunteer and Canada’s chef de mission for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
His mission, he said, is to make Canadian athletes better than his generation was — even if that means seeing his own name erased from Canada’s record books.
“I want our guys to be better than we were. And so yes, I want Erik to beat me, I want him to beat all my records, I want him to keep on going and get them all knocked off. . . because that’s what’s supposed to happen,” Podborski said Thursday from Sochi.
“I want to be part of that solution. What it would do is lift our athletes up, lift them all up so we all get higher and better. Yes, I want Erik to beat that record. I want him to beat them all. I want him to beat them sooner than later. And then I want someone to come along and beat his records.”
The 55-year-old Podborski stood on the World Cup ski podium 20 times, culminating in a victory in 1984. Guay, a native of Mont-Tremblant, Que., has climbed it 19 times, most recently earning a silver in the downhill at Kitzbuehel, Austria, on Jan. 26.
Podborski was in Sochi as part of the Games’ one-year-out celebrations — Thursday marked a year to the day until the Games’ opening ceremonies. He toured the venues, attended a party at the Bolshoi Ice Palace and met Vladislav Tretiak, former Soviet hockey star and current president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.
“He noted that it would be great if Canada and Russia can end up in the (men’s hockey) gold medal final,” Podborski said, laughing. “Let’s see if that comes true.”
Podborski fielded several questions on a conference call Thursday about Guay, the 31-year-old who narrowly missed a medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with two fifth-place finishes. Guay won the world downhill title in 2011 and will be gunning for gold again Saturday at the world championships in Austria.
“Obviously he’s a superb skier, he’s got great technical ability, his maturity is certainly coming now to the fore, he’s done it all, he’s won the world championships, he’s won the World Cup super-G title. . . the guy knows how to get it done,” Podborski said. “And I think (Sochi) will be his third Games, he now knows what’s required and I think he’s going to be able to win a medal.”
Canada finished third in the overall medal count at the Vancouver Games, and Podborski believes the team will actually top that in Sochi, pointing to bobsledder Kaillie Humphries — an Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion — and world snowboarding champion Spencer O’Brien as athletes who are dominating their sports.
As for Sochi itself, Podborski was impressed by the venues and said most are essentially finished.
“I was really impressed at how compact the Games are,” he said. “From the athletes village, if you’ve got a good arm, you can literally — from the one (building) closest to the Bolshoi Ice Hockey Palace — get a baseball over to the runway on the outside. It’s phenomenally close together. And the rest of the venues are within 100 metres or 200 metres of each other in a great big circle.”
Weather is one of the biggest concerns. The temperature Thursday was a balmy 19 C in the city, and 16 C in Krasnaya Polyana, home to the skiing and sliding sports.
World Cup events for slopestyle snowboarding and skiing, scheduled for next week, were cancelled due to lack of snow.
“There was great concern in Vancouver and we had to fight our way through a couple of challenges,” Podborski said. “I suspect there was a bit of a bit of a wake-up call in terms of the mountain weather when they cancelled the slopestyle events. But when we were up there today, we were thinking, ‘It’s too bad they didn’t take a shot at it,’ because it looked pretty good up there.
“There will be challenges, they’re outdoor events, but it’s remarkable what you can achieve at the Olympics with highly-motivated people. I think they’ll be able to pull it off.”
Among Podborski’s volunteer roles, he was part of the bid committee that brought the Games to Vancouver.
“Why was I a volunteer? Because I wanted Canada to be better in the world,” he said. “I don’t want to be somebody sitting on the sidelines on the couch throwing bricks at all those guys who are working their buns off, and now we’re doing great and I’m part of the successful Canadian movement in sport, but on the volunteer side.”