Nov 22 (Reuters) - Erik Guay, a double world champion and Canada's most decorated alpine skier, announced his retirement on Thursday, making the snap decision to end his career after watching team mate Manny Osborne-Paradis's season end in a training crash.
After two decades in the Canadian alpine ski team, 18 seasons and 230 World Cup races, Guay stood in the start hut for the first training run of the season's opening downhill at Lake Louise on Wednesday and did not want to be there.
When Osborne-Paradis skidded into the safety netting and suffered a broken tibia and fibula that ended his campaign, Guay's decision was made.
"I probably made it (decision to retire) in the start gate to be honest with you, when Manny crashed," said Guay, during a hastily arranged conference call.
"It took everything for me to push out of the start gate yesterday and then I went back to the hotel and reflected, I didn't want to make any rash decision.
"It was already playing on my mind a little bit."
After last year's injury-hit season that kept him out of the Pyeongchang Olympics, many had expected the 37-year-old to retire rather than return for one more tour of duty on the White Circus.
With 25 career World Cup podiums Guay was already Canada's most successful alpine skier.
He captured his first world title in the downhill in 2011 and in St Moritz in 2017 charged to a surprise gold in the super G, becoming at 35 the oldest skier to be crowned world champion. He also won silver in downhill.
Why would a father of four young girls be back in the Lake Louise start hut throwing himself down an icy mountain?
The reason was vague. "Unfinished business," Guay told Reuters in a recent interview.
It was unclear what exactly the unfinished business was.
Another World Cup podium would only add to his record but would not elevate his status as Canada's best ever.
There were the world championships in Are, Sweden in February and a win there would give him a gold medal hat-trick but would not tick anything off a career to do list.
The 2022 Winter Games and an elusive Olympic medal hung out there on the distant horizon but the idea of a 40-year-old standing on the podium even to Guay seemed far-fetched fantasy.
Guay's reason for risking it all one more time was far more personal.
He wanted to exit when his mind said it was time, not his body.
"These things don't always play out like you plan," Guay said. "I was visualising what the season was going to be like and my skiing wasn't up to the level I wanted it to be so it would have been a grind.
"Ultimately, I wasn't willing to do that one more time."
The downhill is a high-risk business in which ski racers die.
French downhiller David Poisson was killed last November in training crash in Nakiska. A month later German teenager Max Burkhart crashed during a Nor Am downhill on the Lake Louise track and died from his injuries.
Nearly every downhiller wears the scars of knee surgery as rites of passage.
Guay has had six, one more than his five World Cup wins.
"It's a sport that involves a lot of risk and I'm willing to put that risk out there if there's a shot at the podium," said Guay. "But if I'm not competitive it doesn't make any sense.
"So I came to conclusion it was time to move on to something else." (Editing by Ed Osmond)