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"The Crazy Canucks were a miracle," says Podborski, now 30. "It was like having a hockey team from Barbados winning the Stanley Cup. We started with absolutely nothing. We were really a rinky-dink little team—the mouse that roared. It was four guys that were together, doing things to beat the Europeans that nobody else could ever do. For instance, Kenny would be the second skier down, say, and I would be the 15th. He would come to a stop, rush over and call me on the radio to tell me how to do the course better, not only so I could beat the Europeans, but also to possibly beat him. As far as each of us was concerned, it was us against them, not me against the world."
The Crazy Canucks didn't just happen out of the blue. They had a prototype to work from: (Jungle) Jim Hunter, the son of a Saskatchewan dairy farmer. Hunter started out as a hockey player, but at age 12 changed course and, by dint of three years' hard labor and unbelievable gall, made the national ski team at 15. It was a few years before the Canucks joined him on the circuit.
"Jim was the best on the team when we came along," says Irwin. "He was incredibly strong. I remember watching him once at Mount Tremblant in Quebec. It was just before the race, and he did 100 one-arm push-ups. He was like that. He always had to show off. He loved attention. He remained a little separate from the team, but we learned a lot from him."
"The guy was an absolute maniac for training," says Podborski. "He would never ever back off. He won a giant slalom run at the '72 Olympics, but he fell on the second run. He just couldn't put two runs together. He couldn't quite win. That's one of the things about the sport—it's just not fair."
Todd Brooker wasn't actually a Crazy Canuck. He arrived on the scene a bit late to be a full member of the Crazies. But Brooker caught the spirit. He retired last March after three World Cup wins, nine knee operations and a final fall of Canuckian dimensions at Kitzbühel in 1987. "I learned to enjoy skiing the way they enjoyed skiing," says Brooker. "I don't really regret that I took a lot of falls, because that's the way I like to remember the downhill, as risky and challenging."
Brooker's fall at Kitzbühel was the kind people talk about for years. Back home in Canada. TV stations replayed it again and again for a week. "When you watch a downhiller skiing under control, it doesn't look that tough," says Murray. "But you see this person suddenly lose control at 85 or 90 miles per hour, and what can happen to him, and you realize that possibility is there every second of the way down the hill."
The era of the Crazy Canucks is over now, but the image fashioned for themselves by Read, Irwin, Murray and Podborski lives on in the downhillers who will race in Calgary—guys like Rob Boyd, Brian Stemmle and Felix Belczyk. "The Canadians know they better go fast or they don't deserve to have helmets on," says Andy Mill, a former downhiller on the-U.S. team. "They're proud of that image. They're proud of falling."