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How an environmental ban on toxic ski waxes prompted an Olympic snow-sport arms race

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Andrew Chisholm works at the Ski Technicians Association of Canada Centre of Excellence in Canmore, Alta., a research hub designed to support ventures that might increase Olympic medal counts.Handout

Andrew Chisholm wasn’t even alive at the time, but he has heard the stories of what happened when the miracle substance was first used, in secret, on the ski racing circuit. “I think it was in the mid- to late-1980s when the Italians first started waxing with pure fluorocarbon powders,” said Mr. Chisholm, an assistant coach and ski technician with Biathlon Canada. “It wasn’t even fair. Their skis were so much better than everyone else’s, and nobody could figure out what they were doing.”

Mr. Chisholm was referring to perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs – chemicals that almost magically repel water, grease and dirt, and that can therefore add extraordinary glide to skis and snowboards. After the Italian triumphs in the eighties, he said, whispers began to circulate about the special source of the country’s speed. PFCs became a standard component of snow wax, and eventually any national team that was serious about competing had “tens of thousands of euros of fluorocarbon powders in their wax boxes.”

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Wax techs – the hard-working roadies who prep skis and boards – would constantly test different approaches, looking for a unique alchemy of powders and waxes and application techniques that, along with grinding and finishing, might give their athletes an edge over racers from other countries.

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But after research emerged showing the compounds are harmful to humans and animals, governments and international sport federations began to ban them.

And so, with an eye to next month’s Beijing Winter Games, snow-sport teams around the world, including a collection of Canadian teams with which Mr. Chisholm is involved, have spent the past few years experimenting with new treatments that might make up for the loss of PFCs, in hopes of discovering advantages over other countries similar to the one the Italians once had.

“It’s really turning into an arms race again,” Mr. Chisholm said.

That’s a fitting analogy, because PFCs were first deployed in a different kind of arms race. Discovered in a DuPont lab in 1938, the compounds were found to be all but indestructible. That made them extremely helpful during the development of the atomic bomb, when the U.S. military needed seals and gaskets that could withstand corrosion in uranium-refining plants.

In peacetime, manufacturers exploited PFCs’ amazing ability to repel other substances, deploying them in a wide array of consumer products, from non-stick cookware (sold under the brand name Teflon) and carpet treatments (3M’s Scotchguard) to athleisure wear, Gore-Tex, paints and food packaging.

But the same quality that gives PFCs their superpower also became their Achilles heel.

In scientific terms, the compounds consist of long chains of carbon and fluorine, elements that bond so strongly that almost nothing can tear them apart. That’s why they’re known as “forever chemicals.” While this property makes them excellent at beading rain off umbrellas, it also means they take, well, forever to break down in the bloodstreams of humans and animals. That puts them in a class known as PBTs: persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals.

An Estonian service technician waxes skis before a cross-country race at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler.Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press

Last year, the International Ski Federation, which governs ski and snowboard competitions in many countries, introduced a ban on the materials. Strictly speaking, only one type of fluorocarbon has been banned: perfluorooctanoic acids, or PFOAs, which are known colloquially as C8s because they consist of spines of eight carbon atoms. Fluorocarbons known as C6s, which are shorter and are believed to take less time to break down, are still permitted.

For the moment, though, the ban is effectively a voluntary one, because proper enforcement is impossible: after years of development, a hand-held sensor device, which could give a quick and accurate reading of the presence of flourines, isn’t yet ready for use. “The current way to test for all of this stuff is to fill a room with helium, and you burn everything inside and you see what’s left over,” explained Mr. Chisholm, who noted with a chuckle that the method isn’t great “if you want your skis back, after.”

Even a less intrusive test, which would involve scraping a tiny sample of wax from the base of a ski or board, could cause a significant difference in performance.

National sports organizations have signed a pledge not to use C8s, but apparently not everyone is on board: Earlier this month, the Norwegian news service NRK reported that the International Ski Federation had confirmed the presence of C8s on equipment during a recent competition in Falun, Sweden, that included Norwegian and Swedish Olympians. Authorities have not said exactly which competitors used tainted skis.

With strict enforcement of the ban looming, Canada’s snow-sport federations realized they had to improve their technological approaches to ski and board prep. When the pandemic halted athlete training and many other activities, it helped spur an innovation that Mr. Chisholm and others believe is already paying dividends.

“We have a pretty European-based sports system, and when we couldn’t get to Europe because of COVID, it made us really centralize what we have in Canada,” Mr. Chisholm said. In addition to his position with Biathlon Canada, he also serves as the ski and board technology co-ordinator for Own the Podium, the national not-for-profit dedicated to helping Canada win more Olympic and Paralympic medals.

In Aug., 2020, techs from Alpine Canada, Nordiq Canada, Biathlon Canada and the national snowboard cross team moved into a new workshop and laboratory in Canmore, Alta., where they could learn from each other, share techniques and brainstorm together.

“We have 30 to 40 things that we have to look at that are constantly in flux,” said Blake Lewis, the lead technician for the snowboard cross team. “There’s a lot of trial and error and testing.”

Mr. Chisholm and Blake Lewis, lead technician for the snowboard cross team.Handout

The new research and development hub, officially known as the Ski Technicians Association of Canada Centre of Excellence, or STAC COE, is partly funded by Own the Podium, which works with National Sports Organizations (NSOs) to prioritize investments in ventures it believes could increase medal counts.

“I see them a little bit like a Dragon’s Den kind of thing,” said Mr. Lewis, regarding Own the Podium’s input into the Centre’s activities. “We go, ‘Hey, we’ve got this idea.’ And they poke holes in it a little bit and challenge us. And in the end, if they see value in it, they’ll help fund it or help us find some funding or convince our NSOs to work together.”

The techs are understandably wary of talking too much with the press about what they’ve learned so far by working together. National teams “have advantages for short windows, and we want to keep ours for the window that we have,” Mr. Lewis said.

Mr. Chisolm agreed. For the first season or two after the ban on C8 fluorocarbons, he said, “there is going to be some pretty big disparity in ski performance” between countries. He acknowledged that he has spent a lot of time using high-end, computer-controlled grinders to imprint different microscopic patterns on the bases of skis.

“If you look at the bottom of your ski, it’s not smooth as glass,” he explained. “There’s a little structure on there, and different shapes and depths, and everything that we can play with.” One pattern might work well in damp, warm conditions, channelling water away from a ski’s base, while a different pattern would be better for a dry, cold clime.

“Fluorocarbons are like a Band-Aid. They can cover up some less-than-great work on all of the different parts of ski preparation and make the ski run pretty well. But now we don’t have that any more, so it’s going to be about trying to find what’s the next best thing,” Mr. Chisholm said. “There will be things that will be good in this new era we’re going into, but it’s going to be a big battle to figure out what is that thing.”

The Centre of Excellence is a demonstration of the power of collaborative work across different sports disciplines, he added. “I really think it’s going to give us an advantage that we haven’t had, going into the Olympics. Maybe we won’t have the best thing out there, but we’re for sure going to be right in with everyone else at the Olympics, because of what’s happened at the COE.”

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Marner shows off custom All-Star Game skates at Maple Leafs practice – NHL.com

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Mitchell Marner is going to be skating on sunshine.

The Toronto Maple Leafs forward has some custom skates with a distinct Florida feel for the 2023 Honda NHL All-Star Game at FLA Live Arena on Saturday.

Marner, who will play for the Atlantic Divison team on Saturday, helped dream up the design, which is a beach theme over a pastel pink boot. On each tongue is the All-Star Game logo and inside each boot is the Eastern Conference logo.

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Marner’s big customization? Adding his dog, Zeus, to the mix.

“(Zeus) riding a croc, one riding a shark and then just the city outlines,” Marner said. “The white look I think looks sick though. That’s just kind of the idea of them. I wanted to do something cool for the All Star game, don’t really get to customize a lot of stuff as hockey players.”

The True brand skates were on display at Maple Leafs practice on Tuesday. Were they a hit? Well, it depends on who you ask.

“A couple guys said it was pretty juicy looking, a couple guys were chirping me but that’s what usually happens with our team,” Marner said. “I think everyone probably likes them but they’re never going to say it to your face because it’s better just to make fun of you and chirp you. That’s how this team rolls.”

While he won’t be wearing them for a regular season game, trying them out at practice was a must, but did come with it’s challenges.

“(Alexander Kerfoot) and (Justin Holl) were trying to get some scuff marks on them early,” Marner said. “It’s going to happen eventually but I’ll try to keep them as white as possible until Saturday or Friday.”

– NHL.com Independent Correspondent Dave McCarthy contributed to this report.

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Former captain Horvat, family pen letter to ‘Our Canucks family’ after trade to New York – Global News

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Former Canucks Captain Bo Horvat has written a letter thanking fans after nine seasons spent in Vancouver.

Horvat was dealt to the New York Islanders Monday afternoon for two players and a protected first-round draft pick, after months of contract negotiations proved unfruitful.

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“To our Canucks family. The past 24 hours have been filled with an overwhelming number of memories from inside and outside of the rink,” reads the statement in part, posted to Instagram on Tuesday.

“Nine years ago you welcomed us to your beautiful city and province, and before long, you would make sure it felt like home.”

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Vancouver Canucks deal Horvat to New York Islanders for two players, first round pick

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Coming to Vancouver as a 19-year-old and leaving as a 27-year-old father of two, one of the many highlights for Horvat was getting a chance to play alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

“I remember meeting Daniel and Henrik that first year. Through them you could immediately feel the history, and the connection the team had with fans and the community… the respect everyone had for what it meant ‘to be a Canuck,’” he said.

“I was only 19, but I knew I was a part of a special place in the hockey world. I remember being determined to work hard, keep getting better and always bring my best effort.”

He also took time to thank his teammates, coaches, trainers and members of the organization along with the many people behind the scenes.

“To have been your captain, was a tremendous honour for us…It was beyond the wildest dreams of that 19-year-old who just wanted to fit in and earn your respect one day at a time.”

“The city of Vancouver and Canucks fans will always have a place in our hearts. Thank you.”


Click to play video: 'Vancouver Canucks trade Bo Horvat'

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Vancouver Canucks trade Bo Horvat


&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Tom Brady retires from NFL, insisting this time it's for good – CBC Sports

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Tom Brady, who won a record seven Super Bowls for New England and Tampa, has announced his retirement.

Brady — the most successful quarterback in NFL history, and one of the greatest athletes in team sports — posted the announcement on social media Wednesday morning, a brief video lasting just under one minute.

“Good morning guys. I’ll get to the point right away,” Brady says as the message begins. “I’m retiring. For good.”

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He briefly retired after the 2021 season, but wound up coming back for one more year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He retires at age 45, the owner of numerous passing records in an unprecedented 23-year career.

A year ago when he retired, it was in the form of a long Instagram post. But about six weeks later, he decided to come back for one more run. The Buccaneers — with whom he won a Super Bowl two seasons ago — made the playoffs again this season, losing in their playoff opener. And at the time, it begged the question about whether Brady would play again.

Only a couple weeks later, he has given the answer.

“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first,” Brady says in the video. “I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super emotional retirement essay and I used mine up last year.

“I really thank you guys so much, to every single one of you for supporting me. My family, my friends, teammates, my competitors. I could go on forever. There’s too many. Thank you guys for allowing me to live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing. Love you all.”

Brady is the NFL’s career leader in yards passing (89,214) and touchdowns (649). He’s the only player to win more than five Super Bowls and has been MVP of the game five times.

Famously underrated coming into the NFL — he was picked 199th in the 2000 draft by the Patriots, behind six other quarterbacks, three kickers and a punter — Brady certainly wasn’t expected to become synonymous with greatness. He played in one game as a rookie, completing one of three passes for six yards.

The next year, it all changed.

Brady took over as the Patriots’ starter, the team beat the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl that capped the 2001 season, and he and New England coach Bill Belichick were well on their way to becoming the most successful coach-QB duo in football history.

More Super Bowl wins came after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Patriots returned to football’s mountaintop for a fourth time in Brady’s era a decade later to cap the 2014 season, the start of three more titles in a span of five years.

In 2020, he joined the Buccaneers and won his seventh Super Bowl. He spent his last three years with Tampa Bay, getting them to the playoffs in each of those seasons.

3-time NFL MVP

“I think I’ve been on the record dozens of times saying there’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady, and I still feel that way,” Belichick said in 2021 — shortly before Tampa Bay, with Brady, came to New England and beat the Patriots in a game dubbed “The Return.” “I was very lucky to have Tom as the quarterback, to coach him, and he was as good as any coach could ever ask for.”

Brady has won three NFL MVP awards, been a first-team All-Pro three times and selected to the Pro Bowl 15 times.

Brady and supermodel Gisele Bundchen finalized their divorce this past fall, during the Bucs’ season. It ended a 13-year marriage between two superstars who respectively reached the pinnacles of football and fashion.

It was announced last year that when Brady retires from playing, he would join Fox Sports as a television analyst in a 10-year, $375 million US deal.

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