It’s not easy to make a quiet entrance on the World Cup stage, but the prospect of being the first man out of the gate during the slalom portion of Sunday’s super-combined race understandably gave young Ben Thomsen a few jitters.
The 23-year-old, from Invermere, B.C., was handed his first World Cup start in the discipline in Chamonix, France, when his good friend and mentor, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, suffered a season-ending injury in Saturday’s downhill.
And although Thomsen showed nerves of steel to tame the intimidating Kitzbühel downhill last weekend, the prospect of competing in slalom, a technical discipline he hadn’t been racing at the highest level, was a different matter.
“When I came out of the gate, I’ve never been so nervous for a race,” said Thomsen, who started the slalom run first, in front of thousands of spectators and television viewers worldwide, after finishing 30th in the downhill portion of the race.
“I haven’t trained slalom for a long time and because it’s World Cup, everybody’s watching. I skied extremely conservatively. I held back so much.”
Thomsen, who finished 29th overall with a combined time of 3 minutes, 4.50 seconds, has shown incredible determination and perseverance just to make it to the start gate on the World Cup circuit.
He’s spent the last few summers working construction and landscaping jobs to help pay his way. As a young racer trying to make the national team, he initially struggled to shine on the Nor-Am circuit and found some training camps beyond his reach financially.
Veteran racer Osborne-Paradis, who tore his ACL and suffered a fractured left fibula Saturday, is one of several people who took the former B.C. Alpine Team racer under his wing. The veteran helped line up sponsors and provided plenty of moral support and leadership.
“Manny believed in me from the beginning and I just want to keep backing him up,” said Thomsen, who has formed a close bond with Osborne-Paradis and felt terrible as he witnessed his mentor’s crash from the hill at Chamonix Saturday.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been watching ski racing and got that feeling in my stomach. I feared instantly what had happened – whether he was going to be OK.”
Osborne-Paradis’ misfortune gave Thomsen, who has impressed coaches with his progress this year, the chance to make his World Cup debut in super-combined.
“Because Manny went down they decided to fill the spot,” said Thomsen. “I’m a little disappointed with my run in the slalom. I was probably in about second gear but that’s something that will kind of just come with experience.”
Someone with no shortage of experience is Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic, who won Sunday’s super-combined in a time of 2:57.12. He now has an unassailable lead in the discipline standings. Teammate Natko Zrncic-Dim was second with a time of 2:57.63 and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal was third in 2:57.65.
Canada’s head coach, Paul Kristofic, said when a spot opened up for Sunday’s super-combined, it was a good chance for Thomsen to practise another downhill run after he struggled in certain sections during Saturday’s race, in which he was 43rd with a time of 2:02.38.
“It was an opportunity worth taking. Some parts of his downhill were an improvement,” said Kristofic of Thomsen’s run on Sunday.
“For the slalom, he hasn’t trained enough to be anywhere close to competitive. But he was lucky enough to be able to start first.
“He scored a couple of points in super-combined, which is always a good thing for the future.”
Thomsen, who had a breakthrough 16th-place finish in the downhill at Val-Gardena, Italy, in December, would like to train and race more super-combined events but will first focus on trying to make his mark on the speed side.
It’s his dream to take part in February’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, but the Canadian team is yet to be announced.
“It’s been my goal from the beginning of the summer to qualify,” he said. “I don’t want to qualify through injuries – I want to qualify because I’ve had a good enough season.