February 20, 2018

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Former Canadian Cowboy Jan Hudec returns to Olympics with Czech Republic

JEONGSEON, Korea, Republic Of - The Canadian Cowboys days are long gone for Jan Hudec. The familiar red and white kit is history too.

Hudec, who ended Canada's 20-year Olympic podium drought in men's alpine skiing in 2014, is back at the Winter Games in Czech Republic colours.

The dual citizen has his expectations in check this time around. Now 36 and with countless surgeries behind him, Hudec has returned for what will surely be his last Olympic go-round.

"I really couldn't ask for anything more," Hudec said. "It's a miracle that I'm here anyway."

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JEONGSEON, Korea, Republic Of - The Canadian Cowboys days are long gone for Jan Hudec. The familiar red and white kit is history too.

Hudec, who ended Canada's 20-year Olympic podium drought in men's alpine skiing in 2014, is back at the Winter Games in Czech Republic colours.

Jan Hudec of the Czech Republic makes a jump in Men's Downhill training at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jeongseon, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Jan Hudec of the Czech Republic makes a jump in Men's Downhill training at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Jeongseon, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

The dual citizen has his expectations in check this time around. Now 36 and with countless surgeries behind him, Hudec has returned for what will surely be his last Olympic go-round.

"I really couldn't ask for anything more," Hudec said. "It's a miracle that I'm here anyway."

The veteran racer was 66th in Thursday's downhill training run at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, almost seven seconds behind Canada's Manuel Osborne-Paradis.

Two more training sessions are on tap before Sunday's race.

Hudec, who started racing for the country of his birth after a falling out with Alpine Canada in 2016, has struggled the few times he made it to the start gate this season.

He finished third at nationals and didn't have enough points to make the initial Czech roster for the Games.

Additional quota spots opened up last month but Hudec missed that cut too. He finally booked his ticket when a teammate went down with an injury.

"I joke that I'm the third alternate to the guy whose cousin once knew a guy at the Olympics," he said.

Hudec, who grew up racing in the Banff, Alta., area, won world downhill silver in 2007 and earned six World Cup medals over his 14 years on the Canadian team.

His late inclusion on the Czech roster forced him to get ready for South Korea in a hurry.

In one recent jam-packed day, Hudec underwent a back therapy session in Munich, drove outside the city to get a knee injection, then raced south to Italy to have his ski boots prepared.

"I'm like, 'Here's my boots. I need to be out of here in an hour,'" Hudec said. "'Make them how they were back when I was good.'

"That's literally what I told him," he added with a laugh.

Hudec won Olympic bronze in the super-G at Sochi for Canada's first men's alpine Olympic medal since Ed Podivinsky’s downhill bronze in 1994 at Lillehammer.

The difference this time is that Hudec is not at his usual level of race fitness and has not posted the same pre-Games results. He will try to maximize the remaining training sessions to see if he can close the gap.

"I believe in miracles, but reality is reality," he said.

While a repeat of his Sochi success would be an extreme longshot, Hudec's presence at the Games is still valuable for the youngsters on the Czech squad.

He serves as an experienced mentor and offers guidance when needed.

"Even if I'm slow I can still coach them because once upon a time I was fast," he said with a smile. "On race day I better be faster than them, but it's fun."

Osborne-Paradis had the fastest time of one minute 40.45 seconds in breezy, sunny conditions. Norway's Kjetil Jansrud was second in 1:40.76 and Switzerland's Mauro Caviezel was third in 1:40.90.

"It was really about not skiing as aggressive as you want to and skiing buttery smooth," Osborne-Paradis said. "Taking that little extra room at each gate and focusing more on aerodynamics than actually grunting out the turn, let's say."

Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., and Broderick Thompson of Whistler, B.C., were tied for 25th in 1:42.42. Toronto's Jack Crawford was 41st in 1:43.47 and Dustin Cook of Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., was 45th in 1:44.12.

Montreal's Erik Guay was named to the squad last month but was forced to pull out due to a back injury.

Osborne-Paradis, from Invermere, B.C., won world bronze in the super-G last year. He's making his fourth career appearance at the Games.

"If I have a good run, I'm capable of being up there with the best guys," he said. "It really is a coin toss within the top five to 10 guys who gets to be top three at any given race. It's such a tight field."

And he'll have a former teammate rooting him on.

"It'll be fun to watch," Hudec said. "I'll be cheering for him for sure."


Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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