When John Kucera strikes gold, he makes it count. Though the 25-year-old Canadian born to Czech immigrants has one World Cup victory to his name and a number of top finishes, he really caught everyone's attention last season when he became the reigning world downhill champion.
Growing up in Calgary, Alberta, Kucera's parents moved to Canada from The Czech Republic a few years before he was born. Potentially the earliest skier on snow, Kucera first tried the sport when he was 18 months old. He began racing for what is now the Calgary Alpine Racing Club, then moved up the ranks to the Alberta Ski Team before qualifying for the Canadian Team in 2003. Kucera only spent one season on Canada's development squad before entering World Cup competition. He made his first mark on the international world in 2004-05, when he earned the Nor-Am overall title as well as titles in downhill and super G. He also finished ninth in the combined race at the Bormio world championships and earned his first Cup points with a 12th place in the Wengen combined race, following up with scoring results in every ensuing race that season. Though he competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics, his best result was 17th and he didn't put down a finish in the top 10 on the World Cup until the 2006-07 season. But when he did, he put it down hard. Kucera opened that season with his first World Cup victory - at home, no less, in Lake Louise - winning the opening super G race. He was on the podium again a few weeks later, taking third in the Gardena SG race, then fifth in the Alta Badia giant slalom, to finish the season in a career-best third place in SG standings. In 2007-08, though he had a series of top-10 races, the Atomic racer didn't break onto the podium again until last season, but again ... he made noise when he did.
Eager for another taste of victory, Kucera almost found it again on the Lake Louise SG course last season. Instead he finished second, and then took sixth place in the Beaver Creek SG and the Kitzbuehel combined race. He was saving his glory, however, for the downhill course at the 2009 world championships at Val d'Isere. Here he squeaked by Didier Cuche and Carlo Janko by tenths of a second for the win, one of the greatest achievements for Canada all season. He closed out the season with his sixth national championship title - his second in giant slalom - and has an intense desire to earn a medal in his home country at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Kucera is a movie buff when he has the time and names "8 Seconds," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Wedding Crashers" among his favorites. He also listens to country music and classic rock and has a younger brother who coaches for Calgary Racing Club.