SPORTS

Queens of winter

Canadian women set the world’s pace

JAMES DEACON February 22 1993
SPORTS

Queens of winter

Canadian women set the world’s pace

JAMES DEACON February 22 1993

Queens of winter

SPORTS

Canadian women set the world’s pace

While preparing for the World Alpine Ski Championships last week, Canadian downhiller Kate Pace convinced herself that she could, in effect, beat her opponents with one hand behind her back. That brash conviction was born of necessity: her broken left wrist, the result of a crash during a race just three weeks before, was in a cast that prevented her from using both poles to push out of the gate atop Mount Kotakakura in Morioka, Japan. But 24year-old Pace said she had decided that, despite her injury, the World Championship was her race, her course and her gold medal. Starting 17th, Pace one-armed her way out of the gate and used her exceptional gliding technique to build a lead on the flatter portions of the course. She crossed the finish line in one minute, 27.38 seconds, 46/100ths of a second ahead of Anja Haas of Austria, her then-nearest competitor. Joining teammate Kerrin LeeGartner, the reigning Olympic champion, Pace turned to watch the remaining racers. But to her, the race was over. “I can hold it,” Pace said while catching her breath in the finish area after her run. “No one can touch me now.” And, in a glorious week for Canada’s women skiers, no one did.

Half a world away, Olympic bronze medal biathlete Myriam Bédard of Loretteville, Que., was also setting the pace. After taking a silver medal in the 15-km individual event in world competition at Borovets, Bulgaria, Bédard, 23, won the 7.5-km race. It was Canada’s first world championship in biathlon—a demanding sport that combines the strength and endurance of cross-country skiing with the precision of rifle shooting.

No newcomer to international competition, Bédard is leading this season’s World Cup standings. In Pace’s case, her first international success came as no surprise in ski circles. Longtime observers have been predicting great things for the North Bay, Ont., native. However with the broken wrist, the latest in a series of injuries,

Pace had to overcome daunting odds in Japan. Haas, who ended up with the bronze medal, marvelled that the wrist injury did not appear to affect her Canadian rival. Said Haas: “Kate was looking very good in training, so I thought she might win.” Celebrating her teammate’s victory, Lee-Gartner, who finished ninth, said of Pace: “Kate’s been through so much, she’s had so many injuries—she’s still injured. She’s amazing.”

The Morioka victory ended a series of disappointing results for Pace. Since joining the national team in 1987, the tall, muscular skier has frequently had her career derailed by injuries. She missed last year’s Olympics be-

cause of a broken ankle, and she has twice been sidelined for lengthy periods by knee injuries. After each setback, however, Pace has become stronger and more determined. “She is a quiet, gentle person,” said Donald Fry, who said that he coached Pace when she was a junior competitor in North Bay, “but she is able to come back from these injuries because she is so dedicated.” Said Pace: “I have this philosophy: if I don’t train today, then someone else around the world might. So I try to push it.”

Having won the two most prominent races in skiing—the Olympic and World championship downhills—the Canadian women’s ski team has stolen the limelight from the men, whose domination of the world’s slopes has been slipping for the past 10 years. “Some of those big ski countries are so amazed that we have such a little program and no money and we I come out and get the results,” said Lee5 Gartner. “We ski with a lot of heart and a lot of I guts. We go for it every single race and that " gets you pretty far.” Their success could now translate into better funding for the team, and sponsorship opportunities for the skiers. Pace, too, could benefit. Her brother Albert, a Toronto lawyer who handles her business affairs, said that he has already discussed possible endorsements with several companies.

In North Bay, 225 km north of Toronto, Mayor Stan Lawlor said that the city is planning a city hall reception for Pace when she returns later this month. But the local celebrations were already under way last week, when skiers gathered in the clubhouse at the city’s Laurentian Ski Hill to watch Pace being interviewed on television after the race. Among them was 11-year-old Jillian Young, who cheered when the victorious Pace appeared on TV. She said that her home-town heroine is an inspiration, and added: “I want to ski even faster now.”

The seventh of 10 children—five girls, five boys—of mother, Angela, a registered nurse, and father, Murray, an obstetrician, Pace is known as much for her booming laugh as for

her steely determination. Like Lee-Gartner, she is an accomplished golfer in the off-season. But her focus is skiing. Through a rigorous year-round training program, Pace said that she has developed the confidence required by top downhillers, who must g block out the fear of crashing § while meeting the physical I demands of carving a line o down a steep, icy course at speeds in excess of 100 km/h. After injuring her knee in JaE pan two years ago, Pace

taped a message on the handlebars of her training bicycle that read: “Win the World Championships.” When she resumes training, she plans to replace that message with one that reads: “Win in the Olympics.” The next Winter Games, after all, are only a year away.

JAMES DEACON

STEVE KEATING