Whole new ball of wax for Canadian Olympic ski camp
Canada's Jan Hudec during the men's Super-G at the Rosa Khutor Apline Center in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 16, 2014. (DIDIER DEBUSSCHERE/QMI Agency)
The curse of the ski wax seems to be lifted from Canada's ski team, but now it's haunting other countries.
The tension has dissipated in the Canadian camp, where waxers believe they have finally found the right mix of powder coatings and other substances to counter the extraordinarily high temperatures at the Laura ski facility.
Yves Bilodeau, head of the Canadian wax team, said his squad has already been ridiculed back home for several tough runs by the ski team.
"We hear all sorts of comments," he said. "There are even people who are killing us on blogs, saying 'you can't read the instructions on a box of wax?'
"Well, all this makes me laugh because I know what (wax) is. I've never seen such conditions like this before."
Organisers in Sochi have battled unusually warm temperatures for a week and rain has also affected conditions, with the snow being extremely slushy.
Medal hopeful Alex Harvey bombed out of the 15km skiathlon, abandoning the course after 10 kilometres, which undermined the team's morale.
But Canada wasn't the only country battling the elements. The powerhouse Norwegian women's relay team placed fifth on Saturday, followed by a fourth-place finish by the men the following day, sending shockwaves through the Nordic nation.
Norwegian press ridiculed the problems that were blamed on waxing, a science on which the country spent $4.5 million for research and testing during the Olympic cycle.
Norway's 20-member waxing team wasn't easily forgiven. A picture of the team's state-of-the art waxing truck appeared in a Norwegian classified ad with the word "for giveaway."
"What makes matters worse in Norway is that it's the Swedes who won gold medals in both (relay) races," said Canadian sports psychologist Pierre-Nicolas Lemyre, who works for Team Norway.
Harvey says no one is immune to bad weather.
"It happens even to the best countries," he remarked. "The Norwegians crashed in the women's relay, and you figured they'd bounce back the next day, but they crashed again," said Harvey. "It happened two days in a row to the biggest and best-paid team of waxers. That's why I continue to have confidence in us. It's part of the game, except that it really sucks when it happens at the Olympics."
Bilodeau admits that his failure is "one of the biggest blows of my career," which is saying a lot for a man who is in his seventh Olympics.
The snow in Sochi is exposed to sun and shade, as well as temperatures ranging from -5C to 10C, said Bilodeau.
"You go from a spring soup on one side to winter on the other," he said. "There are places where you need wax that sticks well, to mount a sunny slope, but if there's too much stickiness, the skis brake when you come into the cold."
Through the disappointment, there has been triumph for Canada.
Alberta's Jan Hudec won an improbable bronze medal in the Super-G on Sunday, becoming just the third Canadian male speed skier to medal at a Winter Olympics and the first in 20 years.
The waxers can celebrate anonymously when Canadians win medals, but it can be a different story when things don't work out.
"We have to recognize that we completely screwed up for two races there," Bilodeau admits.
"In those cases, I found my job to be thankless."