Ottawa raCEr Sarah Brown rEflECts on a big sEason
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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...