COURCHEVEL – Being on a school hockey team with Connor McDavid a decade ago made James Crawford realize he had to switch to fulltime skiing.
The Edmonton Oilers captain and NHL All-Star was so good, Crawford saw no other option.
“I don’t doubt that I could have been a pretty good hockey player, but watching him kind of cruise around the ice is a similar way that I watch (Marco) Odermatt ski,” Crawford said. “For some reason, he’s just better than everybody else.”
On Thursday, though, Crawford was better than everybody else — including Odermatt — at the skiing world championships.
Crawford edged Aleksander Aamodt Kilde by one-hundredth of a second in the men’s super-G to win Canada’s 11th medal at a world championships and fourth gold. It's been six years since the last Canadian winner, Erik Guay in the super-G.
“It feels pretty surreal to be kind of etched into the history books a little bit as another Canadian world champion,” said Crawford, who comes from a skiing family. "I definitely wasn’t expecting anything today.”
His aunt, Judy Crawford, competed at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics and had a World Cup podium in slalom the following year. His older sister, Candace Crawford, was part of the Canadian ski team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Crawford’s triumph in the French Alps came in the same region where Ken Read in 1975 had a breakthrough win for Canadian skiing, becoming the first North American downhiller to win a men's World Cup race. The Canadian downhill team was soon dubbed the Crazy Canucks.
On Thursday, Crawford sat in the leader’s chair for an hour, shaking his head in apparent disbelief and biting his fingernails as all later starters failed to beat his time.
“Coming into world champs, it’s really easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself because you have one opportunity,” he said. “With where my skiing was at and how I was feeling, the pressure wasn’t there. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe I could win, but it wasn’t on my mind.”
Alexis Pinturault finished 0.26 seconds behind to take bronze, two days after the Frenchman won the combined race at the worlds in his hometown.
Odermatt, who dominates the World Cup circuit and is the defending overall champion, won four of the six super-Gs this season but finished 0.37 seconds behind in fourth. The Swiss skier is still waiting for his first medal at the worlds, five years after he won five golds at the 2018 junior championships.
Crawford was the next starter after Kilde, one of the pre-race favorites after winning two World Cup super-Gs this season, took the race lead. Crawford trailed the Norwegian halfway through his run but mastered the final section.
“It was consistency from top to bottom. I pushed out of the gate with a very clear mindset on where I wanted to be, what I wanted to ski,” said Crawford, who won silver in super-G at the junior worlds in 2016.
His second medal from major events followed a bronze in combined at last year’s Beijing Olympics.
He led the combined at the 2021 worlds with the fastest time in the super-G but dropped to fourth after the slalom. He also was fourth in the Olympic downhill a year ago.
Crawford has yet to win a World Cup race but has three podium results, most recently at a downhill in Italy in December.
“I have been searching for the winner’s race for the last two years. I just haven’t quite been able to do it and today I managed to do it at the world championships, which makes it a little bit sweeter," Crawford said. "It’s unbelievable."
The course set was technically demanding with several difficult turns in the steep middle section where racers reached speeds of up to 115 kph (71.5 mph), but also rather short with run times of just over 1 minute, 7 seconds.
The silver was Kilde’s first medal at any worlds. The Norwegian won super-G bronze and combined silver at the Olympics a year ago.
“There was one turn where I could have done better, and that is where Crawford beat me today,” Kilde said. "He is a guy that can be fast everywhere because he charges and he dares to risk. And the snow here is a bit like that dry North American snow. He’s a good skier and that’s why he’s capable of winning today.”
Kilde matched the achievement of girlfriend Mikaela Shiffrin, a day after the American standout won silver in Wednesday’s women’s super-G.
“She gives me a lot of inspiration in the way she competes and we give each other support,” Kilde said. “Seeing that we’re both silver medalists, it’s a cool story. Let’s make it a gold at the next opportunity.”
Kilde will compete in the men's downhill on Sunday, while Shiffrin is expected back at the worlds for the women's giant slalom next Thursday.
Matthias Mayer won the Olympic super-G title last year but the Austrian retired in December. American racer Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the Olympic silver medalist, finished 1.52 off the lead in 18th.
Italian skier Dominik Paris suffered bruises in a nasty crash after skiing through a gate but was expected to start in Sunday's downhill.
The Italians wore black armbands after Elena Fanchini, a skier who had her career cut short by a tumor, died Wednesday at the age of 37.
Willemsen contributed from Vienna.
More AP skiing: https://apnews.com/hub/skiing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports