Ot­tawa raCEr Sarah Brown rE­flECts on a big sEa­son

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - MARTIN CLEARY

Alpine ski racer Sarah Brown of Ot­tawa is in the zone.

But this time her keen fo­cus has noth­ing to do with be­ing in the start hut, quickly and ef­fi­ciently weav­ing be­tween the fast-ap­proach­ing gates or charg­ing for the fin­ish line.

No, this ex­tended pe­riod of con­cen­tra­tion is all about aca­demics, now that the most suc­cess­ful sea­son in Brown’s young com­pet­i­tive ski ca­reer is be­hind her.

“When I get back to school (Elm­wood), it’s a big re­cov­ery,” said the Grade 10 stu­dent, who also knows how to put high marks on her re­port card.

“There’s no sports pro­gram at my school. They do their best to ac­com­mo­date my sched­ule. They’re good about send­ing me all the things I need to do. I get as much work done as I can and I know the due dates.”

Now that she’s back on the aca­demic tread­mill to main­tain her high grades, she’s con­fi­dent she can do it and so is her mother, Julie Mon­geon, a for­mer alpine racer with the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Di­vi­sion team about 40 years ago.

“In­ter­est­ingly, what makes her suc­cess­ful in school is also (what) makes her a good com­pet­i­tive skier — fo­cus,” Mon­geon wrote in an email. “She knows how to en­joy her­self, has a sense of hu­mour, but makes things count when it’s needed.”

Mak­ing things count at the right time is what Brown was all about this sea­son. In her sec­ond and fi­nal year in the girls’ un­der-16 di­vi­sion, she knew what it was all about. As a U16 rookie in 2016-17, she ex­pe­ri­enced the re­gional, Que­bec provincial and Cana­dian cham­pi­onships lead­ing to the in­ter­na­tional sum­mit at the Whistler Cup in B.C.

Mont Trem­blant Ski Club coach Yves Payer was only some­what sur­prised, when Brown won the U16 slalom and fin­ished third in the giant slalom on backto-back days at the 20-coun­try Whistler Cup com­pe­ti­tion last month. The U16 vic­tory al­lowed Brown, a mem­ber of Equipe Di­vi­sion Lau­ren­ti­enne de Ski, to win the top per­for­mance by a Cana­dian U16 fe­male and earned her the Nancy Greene Award.

The Whistler Cup has been a step­ping stone for in­ter­na­tional stars like Lind­sey Vonn, Ju­lia Man­cuso and Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States, Aus­tria’s Anna Fen­ninger and Canada’s Erik Guay and Manuel Os­bornePar­adis.

“When it’s race day for Sarah, she comes to race. When the pres­sure comes up, she re­sponds well,” Payer said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

That sit­u­a­tion was pre­sented sev­eral times to Brown through­out this sea­son.

After rac­ing the su­per- G and giant slalom at the Que­bec cham­pi­onships, she with­drew from the two slalom races be­cause of a slight knee in­jury. Payer, Brown and her par­ents de­ter­mined the ex­tra two days of phys­io­ther­apy would serve her bet­ter for the Cana­dian cham­pi­onships in Colling­wood, Ont., which were less than a week away.

That strat­egy paid big div­i­dends. Brown, 15, won the alpine com­bined (one run of su­per- G, one run of slalom), was run­nerup in slalom and placed 12th in su­per- G. By win­ning the alpine com­bined, she au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fied for her sec­ond straight Cana­dian team to race at the Whistler Cup.

Al­though she earned a na­tional age-group ti­tle in alpine com­bined, her sil­ver medal in slalom may be the more im­pres­sive re­sult. Since Brown didn’t race in the Que­bec cham­pi­onship slalom races, she wasn’t a seeded skier for na­tion­als and started her first run with a dis­ad­van­tage near the bot­tom on the pack. But she han­dled the well-trav­elled course with pro­fi­ciency to gain a much bet­ter start num­ber in the sec­ond run. That led to her sec­ond-place fin­ish.

After her first ex­po­sure to in­ter­na­tional rac­ing at the Whistler Cup in 2017, she was pre­pared to mea­sure her level of ski­ing against the Eu­ro­peans.

“I wanted to ski my best to see where it placed me. If it meant 20th OK, or if it meant top three, even bet­ter,” said Brown, who opened the com­pe­ti­tion fin­ish­ing 16th in the su­per- G.

Speed rac­ing is not Brown’s strength as she hasn’t had enough strong runs to build her con­fi­dence to at­tack the course. But when it comes to tech­ni­cal races (giant slalom and slalom), she’s in a much bet­ter mind­set.

“Her work ethic is strong,” Payer added. “She’s al­ways the first on the course and al­ways ready to do ex­tra runs. She never com­plains that it’s cold and has a great at­ti­tude.”

And add to that list that she has im­proved the psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pect of her rac­ing.

“Men­tally, it’s about hav­ing more con­fi­dence and go­ing into the races believ­ing I could do it and not doubt­ing my­self. Men­tally, I took a step up. I learned believ­ing you can do it does in­flu­ence how you ski,” Brown said.

For her past few sea­sons, Brown has had to meet cer­tain qual­i­fi­ca­tions in her races to move ahead to the next level. But that changes for the 2018-19 sea­son, when she’ll have di­rect en­try to com­pete in FIS (in­ter­na­tional) races. Brown will work on her dry­land and strength train­ing so she can be more ex­plo­sive through­out her races and to avoid in­juries.

“It’s a big ad­just­ment,” she said. “I don’t ex­pect su­per great re­sults next sea­son, but that’s OK. There will be a lot more starts and I may miss more school.”

And you know what that means next April — an even big­ger re­cov­ery.

Martin Cleary’s High Achiev­ers col­umn ap­pears bi­weekly on Wed­nes­days. If you know an ath­lete, coach, team or builder you con­sider a high achiever, con­tact Martin at mar­t­in­cleary51@gmail.com

JON HAIR/ COASTAL PHOTO

Ot­tawa’s Sarah Brown capped a ca­reer-sea­son at the Whistler Cup in­ter­na­tional alpine ski­ing cham­pi­onships last month by win­ning the gold medal in the girls’ U16 slalom and the bronze in the giant slalom event. The Grade 10 Elm­wood stu­dent also...

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