Canada's Jan Hudec overcomes injury to win bronze in men's super-G
Published Sunday, February 16, 2014 3:25AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, February 16, 2014 12:25PM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- A high pain threshold and the fervent belief he had more to accomplish in ski racing put an Olympic medal around Jan Hudec's neck.
With bone grinding on bone in his right knee and an aching back that had him bedridden just a few weeks ago, the 32-year-old Calgarian won bronze in Sunday's super-G for Canada's first Olympic alpine ski medal since Edi Podivinsky's downhill bronze in 1994.
Seven knee surgeries -- six on the right and one on the left, and four of them full-on reconstructions --stalled Hudec's racing career several times between 2003 and 2010.
"It's a story of perseverance and patience and humility sometimes," Hudec said. "A silver lining is bronze today."
Kjetil Jansrud won the fourth straight Olympic super-G gold medal for Norway in a time of one minute 18.14 seconds. Jansrud also won bronze in the downhill. Andrew Weibrecht of the United States was the super-G silver medallist .30 seconds back of Jansrud.
Hudec actually tied for third with American veteran Bode Miller, the oldest alpine skier to medal at 36, in 1:18.67.
The Canadian joked he would rather have shared gold before adding sincerely he wished he shared the podium with one of his teammates.
"As long as they don't give me just half the medal I'm fine with it," Hudec quipped.
With several veterans who have stood on the podium at World Cup and world championships, the men's downhill team represented Canada's best chance at an alpine medal in the mountains near Sochi.
Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., passed Steve Podborski for the most World Cup medals won by a Canadian this winter. He was fifth in both downhill and super-G at the 2010 Winter Games.
But the Canadians were kept off the podium in the downhill. Guay was the top Canadian in 10th in the downhill and he was disqualified in super-G.
Morgan Pridy of Whistler, B.C., was 10th on Sunday and Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Ivermere, B.C., tied for 24th.
"Jan's showing so much speed throughout his career and it's awesome that he can put it together on such big days," Guay said. "He's done it at world championships. He's had so many injuries that have kept him out of the game. He really showed up today and he threw it down in a big way.
"It's incredible and I'm thrilled for him as a teammate."
Podborski, Canada's chef de mission in Sochi, called Hudec a "warrior."
"Every ski racer's journey is full of accidents and pain and recovery," he said. "In every sport you lose way more than you win and that makes the victories all that more sweet. He did a fantastic job today."
Hudec's sense of humour has seen him through the times when he thought his body would not let him continue racing.
When it was suggested to him at the World Cup in Lake Louise, Alta., in November that his knee was held together with nothing more than elastic bands and paper clips, he laughed and agreed.
Even in his late 20s, Hudec says he was so beat up he couldn't lift his son Oaklee, who will be eight in March. He also shrugs off the additional hand and thumb surgeries. No big deal, he says.
"Between 2003 and 2010, or 2011 even, I didn't do a lot of skiing," Hudec said Sunday. "That was kind of the joke on the team for a long time.
"I try not to think about it and now you're making me thing about it's pretty brutal. On my right knee, there's not a lot of cartilage left. Yeah, it hurts when I'm skiing."
But Hudec came into this racing season feeling unusually healthy, only to suffer a herniated disc in his back doing jumping drills in the gym in January.
It spoiled his plan to finally race the prestigious World Cups in Kitzbuehel, Austria, and Wengen, Switzerland, in January feeling healthy. The injury also threatened to knock him out of the Winter Olympics.
"I had to go on a very aggressive therapy program and physio until all hours of the night trying to get myself to even have a chance to compete," Hudec explained.
"Until two days ago I had not a lot of confidence going into this race. And then overnight, I had one good training day, the last couple of days good training on the hill and got some good turns.
"This morning I felt good and made the conscious choice to have confidence to go down that mountain. When the success does come, it makes it that much more sweet and makes the story pretty interesting."
Hudec buried a loonie, circa 2012, in the snow near the finish line at the Rhosa Kutor Alpine Centre. It came from a convenience store in Calgary, he said. The year was appropriate, he said, because his life has been "chaotic" since 2012.
Hudec opened an optometry business last year at a posh retail location in downtown Calgary, while preparing his body to race at breakneck speeds down mountains at the same time.
"A lot of people thought it would be a distraction, but it was the opposite because I was kind of like in flight-or-fight mode," Hudec explained. "I wasn't really in a position where I could retire off the money made in skiing because I was always injured.
"I was almost doing the Plan B, while still believing I could win in ski racing. I live by the code of living two years of your life like nobody will so you can live the rest of your life like others hope they can or wish they can.
"I just put more or less all my eggs in that basket while continuing to train and to really believe I could ski race. And thank goodness I got this medal."
While it may feel like Hudec should retire given the pounding his body has taken, he wants to race next season.
"I knew I was going to try and ski this year, but I didn't know how far past that I would go," Hudec said. "If you would have asked me in December, November I'd tell you I'm skiing for four more years if I can.
"It's one of those things I'm taking day by day, year by year. I definitely want to ski next year. The world championships is a big priority for me and it's in Colorado."