Obviously, being the goat must mean something else in German. Or the Austrians have a way better sense of humour than their international stereotype allows. Either way, a civic celebration in Kirchberg, Austria on Monday has provided the photo of the decade for Canada’s Alpine Ski Team. Mike Janyk (left) of Whistler, bronze medalist in the men’s slalom at the recent World Championships in France, flanked by John Kucera of Calgary, winner of gold in the downhill, both wearing traditional Tyrolean lederhosen and clutching a furry friend. American Lindsey Vonn, who won gold in both the women’s Super-G and the downhill, stands off the side in her civvies. (Multiple winners, it seems, are spared the ritual humiliation. Or maybe she just earned a pass after slicing her thumb tendon on a broken champagne bottle during a victory celebration earlier in the week.)
The animal award was the small village’s way of “welcoming home” the athletes. Vonn, as well as the entire Canadian ski team have adopted the municipality, close to the famed Kitzbühel course, as their European training base. And the business relationship has blossomed into a full-fledged love affair. Hundreds of cheering residents turned out for the ceremony and a brief parade featuring local folk musicians and a horse drawn carriage for the victors. Children formed an honour guard, waving Canadian and U.S. flags. “It’s great when you have partners like the town of Kirchberg,” said Kucera. “They’ve been so welcoming…standing behind us and supporting us. It gives us a sense of home, even when we are so far from Canada.”
“I am really honoured that the people of Kirchberg came out and did that for us,” said Janyk. “It’s important to me that all my teammates and the coaching staff are here too. John and I could not have been on the podium without their support, pushing us as hard as they did.”
The skiers were also presented with personalized rodels, traditional Austrian sleds. A nice touch, but probably not necessary given that Kucera and Janyk have won themselves a far more useful form of transportation—free use of a GM vehicle for one year—with their podium performances.
Oddly, it wasn’t the first time that Vonn has been honoured with livestock. In Dec. 2005, she won a World Cup race at Val d’Isere, France, and was presented with a cow. Much to the organizers’ surprise, she declined to take its cash equivalent and kept the bovine, which she named “Olympia.” The cow, now in the care of a local farmer, has since had two calves, bringing her herd to three.
It’s not clear what happened to the goat, but Kucera and Janyk are already back on the slopes training for World Cup races this weekend in Sestriere, Italy. Hopefully, however, one of their friends in Kirchberg thought to program their PVR. The ceremony received live TV coverage in Austria on the ORF network. It should be a YouTube sensation.