Lindsey Vonn maintains her winning ways with strong start to 2016

Following a tumultuous 2014 that saw Lindsey Vonn endure emotional struggle with injuries, missing the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and a relationship with Tiger Woods reaching its end in 2015, she is on her way back towards staking her claim as the greatest skier of her generation. Strongly focused, Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins is still within reach for Vonn.

During a series of Alpine Skiing World Cup races in Zauchensee, Austria, Vonn continued her record chase by grabbing a win in the super-G race. Overall, said win allowed Vonn her 73rd career victory across all Alpine disciplines, and 25 in the super-G.

Photo credit: (Andrea Solero, EPA)

Photo credit: (Andrea Solero, EPA)

The first super-G race of the season was contested in December 2015 at Lake Louise, which was also won by Vonn. World Cup points leader Lara Gut of Switzerland finished second to Vonn by the merest fraction of a time, just 0.7 seconds.

In addition, she managed to equal a 36-year-old downhill record, only adding to her jubilation. Said record had first been set by Annemarie Moser-Proell in 1980 with the 36th World Cup downhill victory of her career. As a side note, Moser-Proell was in attendance at the event.

The win also represented the second in two days for Vonn as it was the first women’s downhill race since 2002 to be contested over a pair of runs. During the first downhill race event, Canada’s Larisa Yurkiw finished in second place, just one second back of Vonn’s winning time. For Yurkiw, the resort was where she made her World Cup debut in 2007.

Larisa Yurkiw the feel good story of Canadian effort heading into Sochi

One of the most captivating stories heading into the Sochi Winter Games is also one of the biggest underdog stories. Forced to find funding after being unceremoniously dumped by Alpine Canada, who had budgetary problems with operating the women’s speed program, Larisa Yurkiw embodies the spirit of determination and resiliency.

Despite what seemed like insurmountable odds, attempting to qualify for Sochi after suffering a severe knee injury in 2009 at Val d’Isere, France, Yurkiw has seen her dream come true. Compounded by the stress of trying to obtain sponsorship while training, no one would have blamed her had she given up.

In true Olympic spirit, there were no traces of self-pity in her remarkable character as she pushed herself beyond her limits. Employing the wisdom of her father Dennis, who reminded her that the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror, only positive thoughts have helped drive her forward. Of note, her parents actually booked the trip to Sochi a year ago, the ultimate sign that they believed in her.

Raising $150,000 in order to finance her dream (one of her biggest supporters was Buduchnist Credit Union in Toronto), she was able to hire a coach and obtain access to training facilities. With the support of skiing coach Kurt Mayr, whom Yurkiw hopes to get accredited in time to join her for the Games, the opportunity to qualify for Sochi occurred after she earned a pair of top 12 finishes during the 2013-14 ski season. The second top 12 finish took place at Altenmarkt, where she finished sixth overall. Her first race at Sochi shall take place on February 9 as she competes in the Super Combined races.

Three days later will bring the downhill races, while February 15 presents Yurkiw with her last chance for a podium finish as she will participate in the Super G. As the last Canadian alpine skier to claim a medal was Edi Podivinsky at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, an opportunity to put an end to that drought would only add to Yurkiw’s already growing legend.

Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans throughout Canada, the native of Owen Sound, Ontario has even found new popularity on social media. Of note, Shelley Jackson has launched a new page on Facebook lobbying for Yurkiw to be Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Only adding to the grassroots support is a community flag at Owen Sound’s City Hall which residents are signing as a show of support and good luck for Yurkiw.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the fact that Yurkiw, a downhill and Super-G specialist, shall represent Canada, and not another nation, at the Games. Despite being the reigning Canadian champion in women’s downhill, a significant part of her training and preparation took part in Germany. Considering such factors, it would have been very tempting to refuse to compete for Canada. Such a decision is testament to the type of kind-hearted and sportsmanlike nature that she possesses.

Regardless of the outcome at Sochi, there is no denying that Yurkiw has the heart of a champion. From the view of many fans, she is already a gold medalist for having endured yet thrived under such difficult conditions. Although it can be a world with no multi-million dollar contracts or endorsements, Yurkiw has emerged as more than just one of Canada’s heroes heading into Sochi, but a role model and an example of what the human spirit can achieve.

Self-starting skier Larisa Yurkiw the living embodiment of resiliency

In what might be one of the most impressive sporting comebacks in Canadian women’s sporting history, Owen Sound’s Larisa Yurkiw is looking to return to the ski slopes after a hurt knee sidelined her dreams. Looking to return to her ranking as the fastest Alpine Skier in the world, the 25 year-old’s biggest obstacle is money.

Photo credit: Willy Waterton, obtained from: https://pursu.it/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Yurkiw-ww-6276.jpg

Photo credit: Willy Waterton, obtained from: https://pursu.it/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Yurkiw-ww-6276.jpg

Unceremoniously dropped from Alpine Canada this year, the road back has been a hard-fought one for the former gymnast. Alpine Canada is throwing their support towards medal favorites, including Marie-Michele Gagnon, whom Yurkiw defeated to win the national downhill title in March 2013 in Whistler, BC.

It was Yurkiw’s first victory since 2008, where she claimed the downhill and super-G. Although she was the only full-time downhill and super-G racer for Canada, the reason for the shocking move was based on qualifying standards.

After earning a World Cup top ten finish in 2009, she was one of Canada’s most promising skiers. Sadly, a knee injury at Val-d’Isere, France in December 2009 left her with torn knee ligaments. The injury cost her a chance to compete on home soil at the Vancouver Winter Games, along with a two year absence from World Cup races. Without the support of Alpine Canada, Yurkiw has had to finance her comeback while looking for another country to compete with.

Through the efforts of the website Pursuit, she managed to raise over $20,000 in order to cover team fees last season. She estimates that this season’s budget will exceed $100,000. Of note, she found a second home with the German team, having trained this past summer in Zermatt, Switzerland. Her coach Kurt Mayr graciously donated his time for her comeback.

While pursuit continues to be the remedy for many athletes’ financial woes, Yurkiw is looking for a larger sum of money that would ideally come from a corporate sponsor. The need for more money comes as she is looking to make that last push towards the Sochi Winter Games.

Having had to train alone for her Winter Games dream, Yurkiw’s story is one that is rare and amazing. Tragically, the jubilation and desolation in her career came within one year. Her pinnacle as the fastest female ski racer in the world came on January 17, 2009. Sadly, two months before the Vancouver Winter Games were to begin, a crash would result in an unforeseen two year absence.

The character and resiliency in mounting a comeback for Sochi has displayed what truly makes her a champion. Ambition, resilience and courage are all words that could define Yurkiw’s hard road back. While her focus should only be on rehabilitation and competition, the sad reality of life as an amateur athlete is that paying the bills overshadows many of the commitments needed to become a world champion.

Photo credit: Malcolm Carmichael/Alpine Canada

Photo credit: Malcolm Carmichael/Alpine Canada

A sponsor is certainly investing in Yurkiw’s dream but the journey for her to find one can be a difficult struggle. Prior to the Vancouver Games, she had enjoyed the sponsorship of President’s Choice. Her unique situation is one that would be certainly worthy of public funding.

While the subject of providing public money for athletes is a source of debate, there is also the issue of dignity. Although Yurkiw is a strong woman, her struggle is a sad example for someone who wants to be a world class athlete. There are unique cases such as this one where she is more than worthy of being funded. Even if she does not earn a place on top of the podium, the hand up said funds would provide is one that is well worth it.