Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thomsen beat long odds to ski for Canada

Teammate Osbourne-Paradis helped struggling athlete stay on circuit

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LAKE LOUISE, Alta. -- Ben Thomsen nearly fell through the cracks a few times during his ski career.

On the verge of dropping out of the sport -- and sometimes encouraged to do so by those around him -- Thomsen is on the Canadian team because of his own stubbornness and an assist from a teammate.

"There was a couple of times I thought 'It's absolutely not possible,' " the 25-year-old said Thursday at Lake Louise, Alta. "It was not happening. I could barely pay rent.

"It was very tough, some of the situations I was in. I kept telling myself 'It will happen. You'll break through and it will be that much better. It will make it worth it.' It has."

Thomsen was released from the B.C. provincial team at age 20. He wasn't getting the results in Nor Am races to stay on the team.

"There is criteria and I wasn't meeting that criteria, so I had to go on my own," Thomsen said. "I went into debt too when I was on my own. That kind of sucked."

A lighter racer at 5-7 and 176 pounds, Thomsen struggled on courses that favoured gliders. The belief he could excel on steeper, tougher courses if he ever got to race on them kept him in the sport.

At races, people expressed surprise he was still competing. Two years ago, Thomsen was living in a garage converted into an apartment in the industrial area of his hometown of Invermere, B.C. To make the national team, he needed to attend fall training camps and pay his own way to World Cup races during the 2010-11 season to earn the necessary points.

Thomsen's job mixing concrete wasn't going to pay those bills. Canadian team skier Manny Osborne-Paradis worked out a deal with his own sponsors to funnel cash to Thomsen.

"We don't have a lot of depth in Canada and if someone has a chance to do well, I just would like to see them given that chance." Osborne-Paradis explained. "I think lots of people thought they'd given him the right opportunities, but every provincial ski team, Alpine Canada, they all have their own structures and their own criteria.

"You've got sponsors and a certain amount of money. They can't take everybody who thinks they've got a chance.

"Once every blue moon, I think you have to step outside the confines of your structure and go find a guy. He needed the money... so I helped him out."

Thomsen was 16th in a World Cup downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, that season and posted top-20 results in both downhill and super-G at the 2011 world championships.

Those results made him a funded member of the men's team in 2011-12. Thomsen finished in the top-10 four times, including a breakthrough World Cup silver on the 2014 Olympic course in Sochi, Russia.

"It's really steep, rough and turny on the top, which I'm really good at, and huge air and high speeds on the bottom, which is in my wheelhouse," Thomsen explained.

Thomsen was 17th on Thursday in the second of three training runs for Saturday's season-opening World Cup downhill. Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was the top Canadian in sixth.

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal finished first and Austrians Georg Streitberger and Klaus Kroell were second and third, respectively.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 C12

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