After missing a couple of races due to injury, Canadian Erik Guay will strap on the skis this weekend in Kitzbühel, Austria, and put his aching back to the ultimate test on the world’s toughest downhill course.
No one can ever accuse Erik Guay of doing things the easy way.
“I didn’t pick an easy one, that’s for sure, but otherwise I would have to wait another two weeks, and I guess I am a little impatient,” laughs the man who took last year’s Crystal Globe for the FIS World Cup in Super-G. “The next step is a training run at Kitzbühel and, if that’s not too bad, I’ll know it’s OK and I can push it.”
'Sometimes you think to yourself, "Wow, I can’t believe I just did that"’
With jumps of 80m (260ft), a vertical drop of 863m (2,800ft), and speeds of up to 140kph (90mph), the 3.312km (2.058-mile) Hahnenkamm course is not designed for those with a weak heart, let alone a sore back.
“It’s crazy – the first 30 seconds is just rock ’n’ roll and it doesn’t give you much time to think because there are just so many things coming at you,” Guay explains. “It’s turn after turn, jumps and bumps, and it’s really steep.
“Sometimes you think to yourself, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I just did that.’ It’s a pretty intimidating run, but when you see the fans and feel the ambiance, it’s an electric place.”
When he crouches in the gate at the top of the Hahnenkamm, Guay will attempt to become the fourth Canadian to find glory on the famed downhill course, joining Todd Brooker (1983), Steve Podborski (1981 and 1982), and Ken Read (1980).
With Kitzbühel pushing him to the razor’s edge, coming back from injury on the challenging course poses an added risk this year on top of the high speeds, icy turns and ever-present catch fences. Too early and his back could get worse, which would mean Guay might not make the world championships next month in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
But after testing his back on some of the giant slalom and Super-G courses earlier this week, he declared it bearable and decided not to sit out another weekend.
“Ideally I could use another week on snow just to get that race feel back, but it’s also important for me to get racing again because I’m looking forward to the world championships,” he says. “I need the race experience and build-up to that, so that’s what influenced my decision.”
The 29-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, originally injured his back a few years ago and has dealt with occasional flare-ups ever since. This time, his sore lower back forced him out of two race weekends in Bormio, Italy, and in Wengen, Switzerland.
'This lock-up was a bit more major'
“I had a bulged disc five years ago and that’s when it really started. After that, there have been some times that I lock up a bit,” he says. “Usually, it’s been a two-day event – I’d pinch it or do something to it, and by taking a couple of days off it would completely heal. But this one was a bit more major.”
This time, Guay felt a twinge after the race weekend in Val Gardena, Italy, where he took a podium for third in the Super-G. A trip to Poland after the race for some appearances found him completely seized up on his return home. The recovery regimen included physiotherapy and some acupuncture to get things to a point where he could start “crushing the core by doing a ton of abs” and making sure he had good posture.
A trip to a back specialist also led to the discovery that Guay has one leg that’s 1cm longer than the other, something that is likely the source of his back troubles. He’s now got special shoes to wear around the house that help level off his hips and relieve the stress on his back.
“I’m hoping it will take care of the problem,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll touch my ski boots yet. I might tinker with that in the summer, but for now I’ll keep them the way they are…”
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