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Canadian Olympian Gagnon to retire following alpine ski season

Marie-Michele Gagnon Marie-Michele Gagnon - The Canadian Press

MÉRIBEL, France — Three-time Canadian Olympian Marie-Michele Gagnon has announced she will retire from alpine ski racing at the conclusion of the World Cup season.

The 33-year-old from Lac-Etchemin, Que., is the lone established downhiller on the national women's team, and will bow out with more than 270 World Cup starts — the most ever by a Canadian skier.

Coming off a downhill crash Jan. 20 in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, Gagnon will not compete in Saturday's women's downhill at the world championships in Meribel, France, but will continue to race super-G to finish out the World Cup season.

Gagnon placed 10th in alpine combined and 26th in super-G earlier this week at the world championship.

She said she made the decision to pull out of Saturday's downhill when the championship began.

"I was really putting a lot of emphasis on this race and the world championships, but unfortunately after the crash in Cortina … I didn't get my confidence back," Gagnon said Friday.

"It was clear to me once I did the first training run for downhill, and even in the super-G, I was not myself. I was not clear in my head and not really wanting to take risks. This is not the version of myself that I really want to show."

But Gagnon knew earlier this season it would be her last.

"I've known myself since December," Gagnon said. "That was before my crash in Cortina and before the bulk of the season and most of the races that happened, so it's not related to results or this crash in Cortina, that was scary of course.

"It's more this feeling that it's time."

Gagnon won five World Cup medals in her career, including gold in alpine combined in both 2014 and 2016.

She transitioned from slalom and giant slalom earlier in her 14-year career to the speed events of super-G and downhill.

"Because I was able to switch from the technical discipline focus of slalom and giant slalom to speed, it kept me really involved and intrigued in what I was doing and it felt like I completely switched sports to be honest," Gagnon said.

"I felt that's what kept me going for a long time."

She placed eighth in women's downhill at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and has finished in the top-10 at five world championships.

Knee and shoulder injuries suffered in a training crash in Lake Louise, Alta., sidelined her for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Her eight Olympic alpine ski races ties for the most ever by a Canadian woman.

Her 23 world championship races are also more than any other Canadian.

Gagnon is engaged to American ski racer Travis Ganong.

"(He) was really able to provide me with a balance I didn't really have as an athlete," she said.

"I was so head-down and sharp-focused. Travis was more about trying to find play within all that.

"He taught me that, so I was able to feel really comfortable and love this career for a long, long time."

There are four super-G races remaining on the World Cup calendar for her.

"To me, the best scenario is to find some training now to try and gain some confidence … and feeling of wanting to be aggressive," Gagnon said.

"My ultimate goal is to end this all with a light heart, a light-filled heart. I want to spend beautiful moments with my team, with my competitors that are my close friends on the circuit, and hopefully get some beautiful results to end this off."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2023.