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Canadian women face uphill battle in alpine

Erin Mielzynski knows Canada is facing an uphill battle internationally, but the alpine skier is ready for the challenge.

"I think that it's important leading into [the 2017] world championships and the [2018] Olympics that we're still David versus Goliath," she says.

Mielzynski, a 25-year-old slalom specialist, and fellow veteran Marie-Michele Gagnon, who competes primarily in slalom and giant slalom, lead the Canadian women on a World Cup circuit that appears more wide-open this year due to injuries and retirements of major competitors.

The increased parity will be on display at this week's downhill and super-G races at Lake Louise, where Canada's entries are relative unknowns following the retirement of Larisa Yurkiw.

"We could see a total no-namer win that has never been top 10 in downhill," says CBC alpine analyst Kerrin Lee-Gartner, who won Canada's only Olympic downhill gold in 1992. "It really is an opportunity for someone."

CBCSports.ca is live streaming the two downhill races (Friday and Saturday at 2:15 p.m. ET), along with the super-G Sunday at 12:45 p.m. ET. CBC TV's Road to the Olympic Game show will feature downhill coverage Saturday at 5 p.m. ET, and the super-G Sunday at 4 p.m. local time.

For Mielzynski, who was named captain of Canada's 2015 world championship team, it's about making steady progress throughout the season as she looks to reach her third Winter Games.

"I expect myself to be on the podium, I expect myself to be a medal contender, but my goals are a little bit different," says the Guelph, Ont., native, who hasn't finished better than 20th in three Olympic races. "I want to start climbing the ladder. Every race, I'm building. I'm building confidence in every day of training."

Opportunities for growth

Mielzynski has been competing with Canada for nine years, and her world championship captaincy was indicative of how far along she's come.

"When you're young, you're chasing, you're trying to get better, you're trying to be with the older girls and then all of a sudden you're defending, and so I think that took a little bit of time to get used to," she says.

"But it's also pretty cool to be able to have people ask you questions and you try to be there for them if they have a tough day or if they need a little bit of inspiration that day."

Mielzynski says her captaincy selection was informal — as the oldest member, she ascended to the position and helped Canada to a silver medal in the team event.

"I started first every round and I remember that all I would do is try my best. I would try to go as hard as I could and try to finish first to give my team belief that we could do it because we were the underdogs," Mielzynski says.

Canadian women reached the World Cup podium five times last season — Gagnon won a super-combined gold and a slalom bronze while Yurkiw claimed two silvers and a bronze to finish third in the season downhill standings.

Mielzynski won a World Cup slalom race in 2012, but hasn't reached the podium since a slalom bronze in January 2013. Still, her accomplishments make her a role model for the younger Canadians on the circuit.

"I can use some of the things I've been through to help me and my teammates along the way," Mielzynski says.

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