Kurt Mayr appointed Canadian ladies’ speed coach
Austrian ski coach Kurt Mayr is hoping to put Canada’s best female downhill and super-G skiers on the fast-track to the podium after being appointed head coach of the ladies’ speed team.
The 41-year-old has worked with Austria’s national team since 2002 and is best known for coaching superstar Renate Goetschl, one of the world’s best speed skiers over the past decade.
Mayr, who is from Seewalchen am Attersee, Austria, flew to Calgary last week to begin working with a young team that includes Larisa Yurkiw, Marie-Pier Préfontaine and multi-discipline rising star Marie-Michèle Gagnon, as well as veteran speed skier Kelly VanderBeek.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what I can bring to this team. It’s exciting for me,” said Mayr, a married father of three who most recently coached Austria’s Europa Cup team. “I was looking for a change – the chance to do something different – and I was always a big fan of Canada.
“If you are going to make some changes and work on development that takes time but we have some really good skiers.”
Canada’s ladies’ team for 2012-13 features a deep pool of up-and-coming talent in the technical disciplines, particularly slalom. However, there’s less experience and depth on the speed side following the retirement of veterans including Britt Janyk, Emily Brydon and Shona Rubens. Yurkiw and VanderBeek returned to the World Cup circuit last year following long-term injury layoffs, youngster Madison Irwin is a relative newcomer to the team, while Préfontaine and Gagnon, who recorded her first career World Cup podium in slalom last season, are better known as technical skiers.
To help accommodate a small group of skiers who compete in different disciplines, Canada’s speed group will train alongside the Norwegian and Swedish teams, while Yurkiw will also spend time training for giant slalom alongside Gagnon and Préfontaine, among others.
“This is a small group but that’s good for us,” Mayr said. “We have to train all the speed elements and we will see what happens then. We will begin with some GS (giant slalom) and super-G training.
“I’m here to watch the girls in training, see what they are doing and get to know them – find out what went well and what went wrong in the past few years. Then we will plan for the ski camps in Europe and New Zealand (later this summer).”
Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of the ladies’ alpine team, said Mayr brings a great deal of experience and insight to his young team and has the connections to make the partnership with Norway and Sweden a success.
“We were looking for someone who would fit well in the group and I’ve known Kurt for a long time,” said Ansermoz, who was formerly head coach of the Swiss ladies’ team, a role Mayr held with the Austrian team. “He has great experience. He’s worked with men and on the technical side, as well as women’s speed.”
Yurkiw, who suffered a serious leg injury in 2009 and has shown great perseverance to battle her way back to competitive racing, is looking forward to working with Mayr.
“I’m really excited,” said Yurkiw, who is from Owen Sound, Ont. “It’s funny because when I found out about it I Googled him. I read that he and Renate Goetschl worked together for a long time and she’s a superstar. I’m used to change and sometimes you can benefit so much from new opinions and ideas.”
Yurkiw is also looking forward to training with the Norwegian and Swedish athletes after being part of a very small Canadian speed team last year. Although VanderBeek came back for a block of races including the Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia, Yurkiw occasionally found herself in the unusual position of being the only Canadian speed skier racing World Cups.
“At one point I thought, ‘I’m going to have to come back and have to be a leader for the first time in my career.’ I’ve always been the rookie who everyone sends down first!” said Yurkiw, who had the likes of Janyk and Brydon showing her the ropes prior to her injury. “After a year on the circuit you learn how to bring people around you to help you out.
“When I train speed I will be with the Norwegians and Swedish. I was really sad to hear that (Swedish star) Anja (Paerson) left. I told her not to retire but she did anyway! That’s kind of tough but at the same time, I’ve met the girls and it’s going to be really good.”
Mayr is excited about the prospect of working with the 24-year-old.
“I saw some good races from the Canadian girls last year,” Mayr said. “It normally takes more than two years for a comeback so it needs time, for sure, but Larisa was skiing really good.
“My goal is to find success – yes, for Sochi but also before. It’s nice to have a young team and I hope I can help them find a way to be successful.”