Ski racing does not reward self-preservation, so Canadian downhiller Larisa Yurkiw has decided to retire despite having the best season of her career.
The 28-year-old from Owen Sound, Ont., says the price her surgically repaired knees would pay to get to Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018 would be too high.
“I’ve had more and more results, but I’ve had less and less skiing,” Yurkiw told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “My preparation periods have become more and more slim. It started to feel like a squeeze.
“This past year, there are moments when I watch my races, that I did a safe thing. I didn’t do the winning thing. I did the safe thing because I’d like to be a mom and I’d like to run with my kids one day.”
Yurkiw won a pair of silver medals and a bronze in World Cup races in 2015-16. She ranked third in the women’s World Cup downhill standings at season’s end behind leader Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. and Fabienne Suter of Switzerland.
Yurkiw underwent a fifth surgery for patellar tendinitis in her “good” left knee this spring.
Catastrophic injuries to her right knee sustained in a 2009 crash kept Yurkiw from racing at the 2010 Winter Games and for almost two years after that.
“This surgery was one of many, but they do add up,” Yurkiw said. “What became more prominent was the juggle between both knees.
“I would never sign up for a Games if I wasn’t planning to win Pyeongchang. In order to maintain a medal-contention position and make it happen, which I’m too stubborn to not, I’m going to have to really think about what that looks like.
“I know more than ever coming off this season what it took to be third. To close that gap from first to third is a bigger budget, a bigger team of support staff, better health, more mileage, more commitment.”
Yurkiw was dropped from the women’s alpine ski team prior to the 2013-14 season because Alpine Canada deemed her results the previous winter weren’t good enough to remain on the team.
So Yurkiw pounded the pavement to raise her own money. Racing independently for Canada, she achieved the pair of top-10 World Cup results required to race for her country for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Racing on a knee that was still sub-par, she finished 20th in downhill.
Having achieved the best results of her career on her own, and having proved to herself she could raise approximately $240,000 annually to race a full World Cup season, Yurkiw chose to compete outside Alpine Canada’s umbrella her last two seasons.
She was the only Canadian woman racing World Cup downhills full-time this past winter. Her three medals made her the first Canadian female downhiller to win multiple medals in a single season since Emily Brydon in 2009-10.
The experience of managing the business side of her sport has given Yurkiw a head start on her post-racing career.
“I’ve been applying to get my MBA on-line and taking a lot of speaking engagements on,” Yurkiw said.
“I think the last few years have taught me a lot about a passion I might have in business. I didn’t know about that before, so I’m pretty grateful to channel some of that experience pretty quickly into another avenue.”
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
photos Janos Schmidt