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Gagnon wins Canadian super-G title as VanderBeek says farewell
Marie-Michèle Gagnon claimed national super-G title at the Sport Chek Alpine Canadian Championships in Whistler, B.C., on Monday, but the biggest cheers of the day were reserved for Kelly VanderBeek, who was given a heartfelt sendoff by her teammates after retiring earlier this season.
Racers, coaches, staff and family members gathered in the finish area to greet VanderBeek as she took part in a ceremonial last run down the final pitch following the conclusion of the ladies’ race. The Kitchener, Ont., native was given a rousing reception as she skied towards her teammates, who played toy musical horns and other instruments, covered her with streamers and awarded her with her vey own plastic ‘Speed Queen’ tiara.
“Now I’m officially retired. I never got to say goodbye to the girls and my teammates and, of course, it’s Mardi Gras-style and glitter,” said an emotional VanderBeek in the finish area. “I’m so lucky to be around my family, around coaches I’ve worked with my whole life, people from the association. It was really incredible. Thank you to everybody for the whole journey. It was an awesome ride.
“I skied the last pitch for a ceremonial last run and then turned around backwards over the finish line to sort of thank the mountain for my journey. Seeing everybody in the finish blew me away. I could hear the horns before I left the last pitch. I though ‘this sounds like Europe.’ ”
Gagnon, second in Sunday’s downhill behind Larisa Yurkiw, turned the tables in Monday’s super-G by taking victory in a time of one minute, 12.97 seconds. Yurkiw was second in 1:13.14 and Julia Roth earned both third place and the top junior award with a time of 1:14.28.
“Today was a good day for me,” said Gagnon, of Lac-Etchemin, Que. “I’d like to dedicate (my win) to my amazing teammate and friend Kelly VanderBeek. She was a great inspiration for me. I remember watching her in the Torino (Olympics). I was like, ‘One day I want to be in the Olympics and do as well as her.’
“I’m happy I skied well. Generally I let the skis run and I had a good approach to it. I’m happy to be Canadian champion – that’s pretty awesome.”
Yurkiw, of Owen Sound, Ont., shed a few tears in the finish area as VanderBeek, her longtime teammate, officially retired from ski racing.
“She’s more than a teammate. I don’t know where to start,” Yurkiw said. “I was a sponge when I made the team and she was the biggest giver. She taught me everything and was always waiting for me in inspection to teach me something I wouldn’t have thought of. We had so much fun. I knew I wouldn’t race with her this season but it’s hitting me now.
“My run was a little hairy but I never have any regrets with super-G when I put it on the line. When I have mistakes there are silly mistakes and then there are ones you make when you are risking. I’m fine with second. These girls are fast and they’re good skiers.”
For the second successive day, Roth, of Waterloo, Ont., found herself on the podium.
“It was pretty good up top. It was really clean. Down here I got a little bit late but I think everyone did that; it was pretty technical,” said Roth, a member of the Ontario Ski Team. “I’m excited to be up with the national team girls. That’s where I need to be for next year.”
Sixteen-year-old Quebec Ski Team member Valérie Grenier, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., produced another good run to take fourth for the second straight day with a time of 1:14.92.
VanderBeek officially retired from ski racing earlier this year following a glittering 12-year career as one of the world’s top speed skiers. She made a courageous comeback from a knee injury suffered in 2009 but in January she announced at a special event at her home hill in Chicopee, Ontario, that she was hanging up her race skis for good.