Alpine skier Valérie Grenier closing in on podium as Olympics loom

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Valérie Grenier couldn’t have been much closer to a World Cup podium that had a decidedly different look in Slovenia last Saturday.

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And the 25-year-old alpine skier from St-Isidore, Ont. most definitely liked the view. Grenier finished fourth in a giant slalom at Kranjska Gora, just .07 seconds away from her first World Cup medal. Sara Hector of Sweden won the two-run race, chased by Tessa Worley of France and Marta Bassino of Italy.

It was the first time in five giant slaloms this season that both Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova finished out of the medals. Vlhova lagged in 15 th place, while Shiffrin was seventh. Grenier also finished ahead of three Swiss skiers who are perennial top-five finishers: Lara Gut-Behrami, Michele Gisin and Wendy Holdener.

“I think for awhile I didn’t really believe that I had my place in the top skiers in the world,” Grenier said on Sunday. “It’s like I wanted to do well but I never was trying to reach for a podium. It’s always like I didn’t want to have too high expectations. But now I’m really starting to believe that I do deserve to be here and I deserve to be with the top athletes. I really feel like I’m a part of them now and that’s super helpful.”

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It was Grenier’s career-best result in the discipline, and matches a fourth-place finish in a 2019 super giant slalom in Italy. It also pairs nicely with a seventh-place giant slalom in Austria in December, her only other race this season. In between, she had to rehab for several weeks after fracturing the tibial plateaus in both legs during a training crash.

On Saturday, Grenier was eighth after the first run, but was third fastest down the course a second time to make her bold move up the standings. When she crossed the line, her two-run time led the field.

“That felt amazing. That’s all I wanted, to come down and be in the green and see that I was first. To see that was like unbelievable to me even though it felt like a pretty good run. I thought it was solid, I just wasn’t sure what to expect, so it feels surreal I guess.”

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Though she would drop three places, she was pleased with the result and methodology.

“That just confirms to me that I’m really on the right track, I know that I’m skiing fast and it’s just super encouraging before the Olympics. That’s exactly what I needed, honestly, so it just gives me more confidence and I know I can just trust my skiing because I noticed that I really didn’t have to try anything different, I just really did my normal skiing and tried to be solid and it really worked for me so that’s awesome.”

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She returned home on Sunday and is taking a week off from competition before rejoining the women’s technical team for a giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy on Jan. 25, then on to Beijing for her second Olympics. She debuted at Pyeongchang 2018 and did quite well: sixth in alpine combined, 21 st in downhill, 23 rd in super giant slalom, but didn’t finish the second run in giant slalom.

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Back then she was more of a super G skier, but things changed after a 2019 wipeout in downhill training at the world championships. She wound up with a fractured right tibia, fibula and ankle. As she returned to competition several months later, she became a better, more patient and composed giant slalom skier.

“I’m really starting to learn to trust myself more and more with time I guess. Sometimes you get to a race and you feel like you have to do something special or go all out or somehow try to go faster but I’m really starting to notice that I don’t have to try to do anything special. I really just concentrate on my skiing and that works every time. My coaches have been really good at reinforcing that in my brain and that’s been working really well for me.”

She plans on taking the momentum from her latest finish with her to China to improve on those solid Olympic results from 2018.

“I’m going to take it 100 per cent with me. It really shows me I belong and it’s not crazy to hope for a podium. It confirms that it makes sense. I’m almost there, so that’s really awesome. I am for sure really putting it out there in the universe. I’m almost manifesting it. I can really see it happen soon. I feel it.”

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Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

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