If you’ve been paying attention to skiing in North America over the past 10 years, you should know the name George Grey.
While he has never shushed the crowd in Oslo, or wailed on a ski air guitar, the low-key Grey has been one of Canada’s best male skiers over the past decade.
At 32 years old Grey has been a fixture on the Canadian World Cup team, earning 78 starts in locations from Canmore, Alberta, to Changchun, China. From Rossland, B.C., Grey is a two-time Olympian with 16 World Championship starts, and a World Cup bronze medal in the team sprint.
He has logged more time on skis than most people will in a life time. He has been a part of the evolution of Canadian skiing in the last 10 years up close, from Beckie Scott’s run at Overall World Cup Champion, to Chandra Crawford’s Olympic gold-medal performance at the 2006 Torino Olympics, to finally Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey’s recent World Championship win.
FasterSkier got in touch with the recently-retired Canadian to find out why he decided to call it quits, where he thinks Canadian skiing is headed, and whether he’s collected any cash from Devon Kershaw.
FasterSkier: First, what prompted you to retire? You skied pretty well this season, you’re obviously still at or near the top of Canadian skiing, and there are plenty of World Cup skiers your age or older.
George Grey: I have had a good and long career in ski racing. At the Olympics I felt like I hit my career peak and with that came a sense of closure to my ski career. I felt like I was ready to leave the sport on my terms. I could continue on and possibly qualify for the next Olympics but I am excited for a change of direction. It is time for me to make my mark and challenge myself in a different way.
FS: How important was it to go out on top – winning three of four races at Canadian Nationals in Canmore, and the aggregate – is that something that helped your decision?
GG: My decision to retire was made before this training season began. Whether I skied amazingly or poorly this year, my decision would have remained the same. My final Nationals in Canmore were very special. It was the very last time I would step up to the start line as a National Team athlete with my friends and competitors there with me. The guys I have raced against over the last 15 years have become a second family and it is hard to say goodbye. Being able to win all three distance races did feel very good. Some may not know it, but that is the one and only aggregate title I have won. I have been very close in other years but always seemed to drop the ball on the last race. So this was a perfect send-off.
FS: What is next in your life? Going to school? Work? Being a full-time Dad?
GG: I am studying the securities industry and possibly attending school in the fall. I would also like to work with Canadian teams and share my knowledge of the sport over the next few years. I have a lot of fast skis that need to be raced on! Most importantly I want to be closer to my wife and son, spending five or six months on the road is in the past for me.
FS: What prompted you to go into securities? Did the guys at Haywood seem to have a good set up?
GG: Actually I have been interested in the economy, and how money makes the world turn. Having Haywood Capital Markets sponsor our team gave me a deeper appreciation for the world market and a closer look at their enthusiasm for what they do. It just seems fitting now that I chase after another one of my interests.
FS: Where are you going to school? Would you be heading to university in Calgary?
GG: The Canadian Securities Institute is an online course with a wide array of securities management courses. They are the standard if you want to become an advisor or manager in the industry. There is a strong possibility that I will attend a university in the near future as well.
FS: You mentioned sharing your skiing knowledge – how are you planning on staying involved? A little coaching, a little local racing?
GG: Coaching comes naturally to me and I would like to help team reach their goals. I wouldn’t say no to a little racing for fun.
FS: Is there any chance of a comeback? Have you left the door open at all?
GG: Once I start down a new path I usually don’t look back. I know what it takes to race at a high level and I would rather be a part of that from a different perspective. Ski racing is not over for me, I just won’t compete at it. But it will always hold a piece of my heart.
FS: Over your career you have seen an impressive amount of success. What were the highest – and lowest – points in your career?
GG: The lowest have always been injuries. Any athlete will tell you they are hard to accept. I have had my share at some pretty crucial times. A stress fracture in my foot paired with a torn ligament with only four months to go until the Olympics was not a good feeling. Ironically, the 2010 Olympics was also my highest of highs. The team, my results, our results, and the total atmosphere was incredible. A home Olympics, friends and family watching trail side, and I raced the races of my life. That is why I can walk away happy.
FS: This season the National Ski Team seemed to explode – four Tour de Ski medals, two World Cup medals, and the first-ever World Championships win by a Canadian.How was the team different this year than previous years? What did Justin Wadsworth bring that seemed to work so well?
GG: Our team has been on a steady progression for the last decade. To attribute this years’ success to one coach is unfair to all the coaches that have developed us along the way. Every coach brought something new to our team, and we have just been steadily soaking it up. Justin gels with our team very well and makes it a fun training environment. When athletes and coaches are both happy and dedicated, then you are going to get some great results.
FS: You’ve been at the top of Canadian skiing for the past 10 years – do you feel like the quality of domestic skiers and racing has improved over that time?
GG: Across the board, Canada is getting stronger. The depth is coming, and there are great athletes at the top the guide the way.
FS: With regards to team improvements over the last 10 years, you were a part of the group that took Canada from a country with no men scoring World Cup points in the early 2000’s to having a consistent 5 to 8 guys scoring points from 2006 to now. You’ve seen it first hand. What has been crucial to that improvement? Beckie Scott’s success? Greater funding in the run up to 2010?
GG: It has been a combination of the belief that we can be great, and the increased funding. Amateur sport is no longer just ‘putting in the work’. There is so much science behind the athletes and equipment now that without money, you stand little chance at World podiums.
FS: Lots of people attribute Ivan Babikov coming over as a major factor in raising the level of Canadian skiing. How much do you feel the arrival of Babikov did for the team?
GG: For me, Ivan was a great inspiration. He came to Canada and just put his head down. He is a very driven person, and racing against him raised my level and in turn our program’s level. Ivan is a great person to have around the team.
FS: You’ve won a World Cup medal with Alex Harvey, been on dozens of relay teams with Devon Kershaw, including 6th and 9th place finishes at World Championships, and combined with all three (Harvey, Kershaw, Babikov) for 5th in 2009 at World Champs. You probably know those three guys talents better than anyone else – where do you think they’re headed, what’s the next milestone step for the Canadian men?
GG: There are great opportunities ahead for those three guys. Next year their focus will certainly be the Tour de Ski and if everything goes perfectly we could have a man standing on the podium at the end of the whole tour.
FS: Finally, your bet with Kershaw – have you collected on that yet?
GG: Yeah, Devon owes me $500 for his failure to believe I was hanging it up after this year. I haven’t seen the cash yet, but I know where he lives and I’m bigger than him!