epa05095414 Larisa Yurkiw of Canada in action during the Women's Super G race at the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup in Zauchensee

Yurkiw puts Canada back on the downhill map

Larisa Yurkiw’s instincts are steering her onto the World Cup downhill podium. The 27-year-old skier from Owen Sound, Ont., is coming off back-to-back medals. A silver in Altenmarkt, Austria, and bronze in Val-d’Isere, France, make Yurkiw the first Canadian woman to win multiple World Cup ski medals in a single season since Emily Brydon in 2009-10.

Larisa Yurkiw’s instincts are steering her onto the World Cup downhill podium.

The 27-year-old skier from Owen Sound, Ont., is coming off back-to-back medals.

A silver in Altenmarkt, Austria, and bronze in Val-d’Isere, France, make Yurkiw the first Canadian woman to win multiple World Cup ski medals in a single season since Emily Brydon in 2009-10.

Yurkiw wants to make it three in a row Saturday in Cortina, Italy, where she won silver a year ago for her first career podium.

“I like a little bit of pressure that I can feel is in Cortina,” Yurkiw said in an interview.

“It’s magical to be on the podium. A lot has to go right.”

Yurkiw manages her own career and pays for her ski racing outside of the umbrella of Alpine Canada.

When she was cut from the women’s ski team prior to the 2013-14 season, Yurkiw found sponsors, hired a coach and achieved the qualifying results she needed to race for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Yurkiw has since been invited to re-join the national team. She’s chosen to remain independent because she’s had the best results of her career operating as Team Larisa.

She is the only Canadian woman racing World Cup downhills full-time this season. Yurkiw isn’t convinced Alpine Canada has a women’s speed program that can do better than the environment she’s created for herself.

The organization has a stronger women’s technical program focused on slalom skiers.

Coming up with roughly $240,000 annually to pay Yurkiw’s coach, medical support team, training and travel costs is stressful and time-consuming. Yurkiw said she was 30 per cent short of her budget for the season at December’s season-opener in Lake Louise, Alta.

Winning medals helped as sponsors stepped up their contributions. Yurkiw also picked up almost C$40,000 in prize money for her two podium results.

“It has changed the remainder of the season,” Yurkiw said. “I wasn’t panicking, but I needed the math to work. People need to get paid.”

“The sooner I could put that out of my mind, the better.”

Her medal in Val-d’Isere also signalled that Yurkiw left behind her painful history there. A catastrophic knee injury sustained in a training run six years ago wiped out her next two seasons, including the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“Having stood on the podium in a place that knocked me out was very massive,” Yurkiw said. “It was monumental in a sense that I’m a more experienced and mature and weathered athlete coming here now.”

The distance she’s put on her injury and lost seasons, plus feeling she’s made the right decisions for her ski career, is translating into success on the piste now.

She and her Austrian coach Kurt Mayr go into each race with a plan, but Yurkiw has the confidence to adapt mid-race to the changing variables of an outdoor sport.

“Generally I get a lot more instinctual for a race,” Yurkiw explained.

“I was instinctual prior to my injury, but almost recklessly so. When I got injured, I was extremely robotic for a while. Probably trying to prevent it from happening again.

“Having my feet under me for five years out of my injury, in the last little while, I think I’ve really trusted that my instincts were why I was fast and why I made the national team and why I was successful at a younger age.

“I need to find that again and trust it again. I am a better skier now and have more skills now to pull it off.”

Yurkiw heads to Cortina ranked fourth overall in the women’s World Cup downhill standings behind leader Lindsey Vonn of the U.S., Cornelia Huetter of Austria and Fabienne Suter of Switzerland.

Yurkiw mitigates the loneliness of operating as a team of one by travelling and training with the Swedes, Norwegians and Germans. Sweden’s Kaisa Kling is her roommate on the road.

“I have good friends around me for teammates, I have a great coach that has no ego and treats me like a human no matter what the result,” Yurkiw said. “That goes a long way for me.”

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