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Canadian downhill ski racer Manuel Osborne-Paradis announces retirement

A lot led up to the moment Manuel Osborne-Paradis decided to retire. During an August track workout when he would normally push hard, the decorated Canadian ski racer stopped sprinting and walked.

A lot led up to the moment Manuel Osborne-Paradis decided to retire.

During an August track workout when he would normally push hard, the decorated Canadian ski racer stopped sprinting and walked.

Osborne-Paradis reached the tipping point amid a number of forces barring his return to ski racing.

A setback in his months-long comeback from a catastrophic knee injury, the COVID-19 pandemic thrusting the upcoming racing season into uncertainty, two young children at home and reaching his limit with amateur sport bureaucracy added up to 'enough'.

"I literally was at the track doing my workouts," Osborne-Paradis told The Canadian Press. "It just switched.

"I walked back to the car and as I walking back I went 'you know. I think I'm done.'"

The 36-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., is a four-time Olympian, winner of 11 World Cup medals and a world championship bronze medal in super-G.

He's part of the "Canadian Cowboys" era on the men's alpine ski team. That group of men produced seven world championship medals, including three gold, between 2009 and 2017.

"There's not one thing that I did that makes me proud," Osborne-Paradis said. 

""It's being a part of such a special thing. It wasn't a one-man show. We were able to share it with each other."

The chance to win an Olympic medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing drove his comeback from a hellacious crash in Lake Louise, Alta., in 2018,

Osborne-Paradis shattered his tibia and fibula tumbling into the safety nets halfway down the first training run of the season.

The horror of that crash accelerated the retirement of his teammate Erik Guay. 

The two-time world champion intended to ski one more season, but called it quits two days after Osborne-Paradis's wreck. 

"Maybe I'm lucky in that my tipping point happened alone at a track," Osborne-Paradis said. "Erik's happened at the top of the mountain before his run."

What once felt like a generous timeline for Osborne-Paradis to rehabilitate and get back to racing in time for 2022 recently shrunk.

A routine procedure Dec. 30, 2019, to remove a pair of screws in his leg turned into repair work on his meniscus ligament. 

Back on crutches and his leg muscles atrophying, Osborne-Paradis wasn't able to start serious skiing in March as he'd planned, and get a head start on the 2020-21 World Cup season.

Races are condensed and concentrated in Europe this winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Osborne-Paradis didn't think he'd be ready to compete until later this season

But how much ski training and time in the gym he'd get in Europe because of pandemic restrictions were questions without clear answers.

Osborne-Paradis says he leaves on good terms with Alpine Canada, but the federation's desire to delay his arrival in Europe this fall for another training block at home, and then have him stay there for the season was going to be hard on the home front. 

He and his wife Lana have a three-year-old daughter and an infant son. They live in Invermere, B.C.

"There's a ton of factors. It's not one thing right?" Osborne-Paradis said. "You're thinking 'what am I really doing here?'

"There's just no way with lockdowns, quarantines and bubbles, to really get what I'm going to need to be as good as I want to be to go to the Olympics, to get a medal. 

"The whole point is to have a chance at a medal at the Olympics. Give myself one more chance.

"If I can't win, then I'm not going to waste people's time."

While Osborne-Paradis says it was heartbreaking to tell his orthopedic surgeon Stephen French he wouldn't ski race again, the affable athlete is at peace with his decision.

"I have seen athletes be torn inside for years because it wasn't their choice and they didn't leave on their own terms," he said. 

"I always thought if I'm going to put a period at the end of this career, I want it to be mine. I don't want somebody else to make that for me. I feel empowered I was able to see it first.

"It wasn't me skiing this winter and someone from Alpine Canada has to come over and tap me on the shoulder and say 'dude, you're just not very good any more.'"

Osborne-Paradis was the first Canadian to participate in a Harvard Business School program matching professional athletes with MBA students to develop athletes' business acumen. 

He's currently working on completion of a Royal Roads University undergrad degree and spending time with his young children Sloane and Toby.

"This time is so important," Osborne-Paradis said. "Might as well cherish while I can."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press