Canada left off the podium in men’s downhill at Olympics

WHISTLER, B.C. — Being the top Canadian didn’t mean much to Erik Guay after the host country was shut out of the medals in the men’s downhill at the Winter Olympics on Monday. The

Erik Guay of Canada croses the finish line finishing 5th during the men's downhill race at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in Whistler

Erik Guay of Canada croses the finish line finishing 5th during the men's downhill race at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. — Being the top Canadian didn’t mean much to Erik Guay after the host country was shut out of the medals in the men’s downhill at the Winter Olympics on Monday.

The race was won by Switzerland’s Didier Defago in one minute 54.31 seconds. Guay, from Mont-Tremblant, Que., was fifth in 1:54.64

“It’s heartbreaking a little bit to be fifth,” said Guay. “It wasn’t a bad run and it’s my best result of the year in downhill.

“You hope and pray for Olympic miracles. I would have loved to be on the podium but fifth place is where I am standing.”

Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Invermere, B.C., was seen as Canada’s top medal threat in the marquee event on the alpine skiing schedule. A couple of mistakes cost him time and he finished 17th in 1:55.44.

“It’s tough,” said Osborne-Paradis as he slowly sipped from a water bottle. “There’s three spots that mean something.

“It’s just a bad feeling.”

Defago’s gold was the first for Switzerland in the Olympic downhill since the 1988 Calgary Games.

Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, the defending overall World Cup champion, was second in 1:54.38 while American Bode Miller was third in 1:54.40.

Calgary’s Jan Hudec, who battled back to race after a string of knee injuries, was 25th in 1:56.19 while Robbie Dixon of Whistler fell.

The race was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed due to weather. Fog, rain and heavy snow resulted in the men managing just one official training on Thursday. The warm temperatures softened the snow, making it too dangerous to race.

Fans began filing into the stands long before the first of the 64 racers headed down the track. Flags fluttered in the wind and cow bells rang. There were painted faces and hands kept warm by red mittens decorated with the Maple Leaf.

A crew worked all night preparing the course. Race day saw clear skies and cool temperatures, exactly what officials wanted for the snow to freeze and the course harden.

The competition was held on the 3,105-metre Dave Murray Downhill, named after the former Crazy Canuck who died of cancer in 1990. Many of the Canadians racing Monday grew up skiing on the course.

In the years leading up to the Games, Alpine Canada did its best to limit access to the course to Canadians.

Canada’s last Olympic alpine ski medal was Edi Podivinsky’s bronze in the downhill at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. The last Canadian to strike gold in skiing was Kerrin Lee-Gartner who won the downhill at the 1992 Albertville Games.

A rash of injuries this winter shredded the Canadian ranks.

John Kucera, who won the downhill at last winter’s world championships, broke his leg in the first super-giant slalom race of the season. Francois Bourque, who finished fourth in the giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Olympics, and Jean-Philippe Roy will miss the Games with knee injuries.

Own the Podium, the $117-million program designed to help Canada win more medals than any other country at the Vancouver Games, spent $10 million on alpine skiing, more than any other sport.

OTP predicted two ski medals for the team. Alpine Canada upped that to three, including one gold.