LAKE LOUISE — Swiss alpine skier Didier Cuche, who finished third overall in last season’s World Cup standings, was the fastest man Wednesday at opening day training for the first downhill race of the season.
Cuche blazed down the Lake Louise slope in a time of one minute 49.98 seconds, more than half a second ahead of his nearest competitor.
Robbie Dixon, of Whistler, B.C., was the top Canadian and finished fourth with a time of 1:51.09.
“I was a little bit nervous but I tried to push it as much as I could,” Dixon told reporters after his run.
“This summer, everyone had really good training, so just having that makes a big difference and it makes you more confident.”
Dixon ended last season a career-best 20th in the men’s downhill standings.
Finishing right behind Cuche on the first day of training were Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, who ended last season’s World Cup first in the downhill event, and France’s Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin.
Walchhofer clocked in with a time of 1:50.60 and Dalcin finished at 1:51.08.
American Bode Miller was sixth in a time of 1:51.25.
Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who was the overall champion last season, finished in a tie for 44th with Calgary’s Jan Hudec at 1:53.32. Hudec won the downhill at Lake Louise in 2007.
Calgary’s John Kucera, who finished second in the super-giant slalom at Lake Louise last year and won that same event in 2006, finished 14th.
“For me, usually my first run it’s more of an inspection run than a race run,” said Kucera, who put in a time of 1:51.79.
“But you know what, when you can still be competitive with some big mistakes, then that shows that once I clean those things up, it should go in the right direction, I hope.”
Among those mistakes, Kucera said, was nearly bumping into a gate towards the end of his run.
“They ran (the race) where they ran it a few years back, so it’s a little different than what it’s been for the last few years. Some really flat light and a lot of terrain,” he said.
Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., finished 43rd and said his run went as expected because he’s been battling back issues since the summer.
“Obviously, the time’s not that great, but I was kind of expecting that a little bit. I knew that I wasn’t exactly ready coming in here,” said Guay, who finished at 1:53.29.
“That being said, I still have a couple more runs before the race day so I’m going to try and switch it around.”
The downhill race will be held Saturday with the opening super-giant slalom of the season scheduled for Sunday.
Guay has been on the World Cup podium 10 times in his career, including a third place finish in Beaver Creek, Colo., last season.
He said the highlight of this season will be February’s Winter Olympics and that’s the goal he’s working towards.
“I’m just going to use my experience hopefully and try not to panic, but at the same time work really hard, do a lot of video, and do everything I can to be there for the Olympics,” he said after completing his run.
Kucera, on the other hand, said winning the World Cup championship would be a far bigger achievement than winning an Olympic medal.
“Winning an Olympic medal is an amazing thing and feat and obviously it’s one of my goals to win one, but when you think about what it takes to win a championship, much more goes into that,” said Kucera, who won the downhill event at last season’s world championship.
“The Olympics, that’s one day. If you have a great day, you can step up on the podium. But to win (the World Cup) you have to be consistent throughout the whole year. That’s tough to do and that’s what really showcases who the best skiers are.”
Dixon’s opinion of the importance of the Games fell somewhere between his two teammates.
“I try to take the Olympics like any other race,” he said.
“We have a lot of races until now and then and also with the training we had, the way the team is skiing and the confidence I took from last year, I’m just building on that and this result helps that continuum. February is close but it’s still a long way”
Four skiers from the men’s alpine team will represent Canada at the 2010 Games.
Among other Canadians, Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Vancouver was 46th in 1:53.34; Louis-Pierre Helie of Berthierville, Que., was 49th in 1:53.42; and Tyler Nella of Toronto was 53rd in 1:53.60.
Osborne-Paradis said he had trouble with visibility during his run.
“This is the light that I cannot see in to save my life,” he said.
Osborne-Paradis said he’s had trouble seeing the finish line in the past and he’s ordered new contact lenses to hopefully correct the problem.
“When there’s no contrast whatsoever, I can’t stop. I fall, I do whatever. I just noticed that nobody else was having problems,” he said.
“I think it was the same thing with asthma. I was always out of breath and everybody just called me out of shape.”