Chris Blanchard of Pointe-Claire, Que., begins his ninth season on the Canadian national team assured to compete at the 1998 Winter Olympics for the first time. It was a breakthrough season in 1996-97 for Blanchard. He posted four top-40 World Cup results including two at the Olympic course in Nagano. But he saved his best performance for the world championships placing 32nd in the 30 kilometre freestyle. He was ranked Canada's top international male skier in 1997. Blanchard, 26, started skiing at a very young age and participated in his first Canadian ski marathon at the age of 8. He lives and trains in Canmore, Alta.