Nervous time for some athletes still trying to make Canadian Olympic team - Metro US

Nervous time for some athletes still trying to make Canadian Olympic team

VANCOUVER, B.C. – As the clock ticks down to the opening of the Vancouver Winter Games, time is also slipping away for some athletes battling to earn a berth on Canada’s Olympic team.

Ryan Blais, a freestyle aerials skier, is one of the athletes on the bubble. He needs good results in the next two World Cup events to earn a spot in Vancouver.

“I’m both anxious and nervous,” Blais said Tuesday. “It’s going to happen on our team that there is going to be some athletes that are podium potential that will not qualify for the team.

“It’s the nature of the beast.”

The Canadian Freestyle Ski Team won’t announce its Olympic selections until Jan. 25, just 17 days before the Games’ opening ceremony on Feb. 12.

Skate Canada will unveil its Olympic team Sunday, following the Canadian championships. Other sports still waiting to name their Olympic athletes include cross-country skiing (Jan. 22); biathlon and snowboarding (Jan. 25); ski jumping and nordic combined (Jan. 26); Alpine Canada and bobsled/skeleton (Jan. 27); and biathlon (Jan. 28).

Meanwhile, some athletes have known for months they are headed for the Olympics. The short-track speedskating team was selected in August.

The most anticipated – and debated – team announcement was the men’s hockey team, which was named Dec. 30.

“We spent hours and hours debating,” Steve Yzerman, executive director of the team, said at the time. “There were very good players left off. We’re very confident in the team we’ve put together.”

Canada’s long-track speedskating team was named earlier this week.

“We’re going to work at different times toward making sure they become a team as much as possible, because we believe there’s positive energy that can come of it,” said Brian Rahill, Speed Skating Canada’s high performance director.

“There will be some times where we’re going to bring them together. Mostly we’re going to be really focusing on building the team approach to deliver what the athletes need at Games time.”

Many athletes have posted results that meet their sport federation’s Olympic qualifying standards, but the official announcement can still bring a sigh of relief.

“It’s exciting to make it official and it’s really happening now,” said long-track speedskater Brittany Schussler. “The whole thing has been an unbelievable experience.”

Some federations wait as long as possible before the final selection.

This can help people like Jan Hudec, a skier who is battling back from his fifth major knee surgery. He needs a top-12 finish in this weekend’s World Cup downhill race at Wengen, Switzerland, to lock up a spot on the Canadian team.

Hudec said he’s too busy concentrating on the race to worry about the Olympics.

“Downhill is stressful no matter what is going on,” he said in a telephone interview. “You can put all that other stuff behind you and focus on what your tasks are for the day.

“I know if I take care of business on the day, it’ll take care of business as we approach the Olympics.”

Canada can send 18 freestyle skiers to the Vancouver Olympics. That includes a maximum of four athletes in each of the men’s and women’s disciplines of moguls, aerials and skier-cross.

Complicating the issue, the team can have no more than 10 athletes of the same gender.

So far just three athletes have secured a berth at the Games: defending Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Heil in moguls, Steve Omischl in aerials and Ashleigh McIvor in ski cross.

Blais knows the heartache of missing an Olympic team.

In 2006 he won the final aerials competition before the Games but was left off the Canadian team heading to Turin. He was edged out of the spot by teammate Jeff Bean who finished second, but had more overall points.

“It makes it stressful to be an athlete,” said Blais. “It’s stressful for family and friends and anyone trying to organize their tickets and see if they are going to go to Vancouver.”

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