Canada's Kucera Happy to be Home - Looks Ahead to Season, Olympics
By Brian Pinelli
Entering last season's World Championship downhill in Val d'Isère, France, few, if any considered Canada's John Kucera as a legitimate contender.
"It had been a rough season heading in there but once I got to the super G I knew I was skiing well on that run which really suits my style," said Kucera regarding last season's marquee downhill race on the Face de Bellevarde piste. "I knew it was up for grabs if I could put it together."
Starting second behind Hermann Maier, Kucera skied fluid and composed, carving tight turns, swiftly moving edge to edge on the steep and sinuous course that frustrated most others. His time of 2:07.01 would stand up to the remaining 36 challengers, albeit that others including Bode Miller and Aksel Lund Svindal unluckily dealt with foggy patches near the top of the course. Canada had its first World Champion.
"It was a great day - definitely some weather did move in at the end there but it's an outdoor sport and that's the way it is," said Kucera during a recent interview in Sölden, Austria. "Didier (Cuche who finished second .04 behind) and those guys had the same conditions as I did and I still got them. It was a strong day skiing and you have to be good to be lucky sometimes."
For Kucera, 25, it was by far the brightest moment in his six years on the World Cup circuit and perhaps a sign of good things to come. Last season, the Canadian finished 19th in the downhill standings and 9th in super-G, but with a productive offseason he is optimistic about the upcoming months.
"We spent a lot of time working to try and get the GS back because it was definitely a rough year in GS last year - I think things are on track there so that should be better," he said. "As long as my GS and super-G are there, the downhill usually falls into place. The goal is to shoot for the podium in these three this year."
While this weekend's attention is on the opening speed races in Lake Louise, it's difficult for fans and media not to look ahead two-and-a-half months and 800 kilometers west to Vancouver.
"We're on the road so much it's going to be really nice to be at home with family and friends around - that's going to be exciting," said Kucera regarding February's Olympics. "As far as everything else goes I'm anticipating to be quite busy obviously. There's going to be a lot of attention on the Canadians, but its one of those things that really doesn't bother me so much so it will be a good time."
Kucera and his Canadian Cowboy teammates, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Erik Guay, Jan Hudec and Robbie Dixon will aim to become Canada's first male Olympic skiing medalists since Edi Podivinski took bronze at the 1994 Lillehammer downhill. Of the famed "Crazy Canucks" in the late 70's and 80's, only Steve Podborski managed to win an Olympic medal claiming downhill bronze at Lake Placid in 1980.
"It comes down to the guys on the team," he said. "Without them pushing me and us being a really competitive group it's hard to have success on your own."
And playing in his favor, Kucera is certainly no stranger to Whistler Mountain and the trails that will host Vancouver's Alpine races come mid-February.
"I definitely did not go hike the course," Kucera says with a laugh. "It's a track that I've skied quite a bit since I was 16 during National Championships and Nor-Am events there. Whistler is a track that's going to reward strong skiers. It suits me well and I really like competing there and the environment. It's a familiar place so it's going to be quite fun."
However, this weekend, Kucera and his fellow Canadian Cowboys have their sights set on Saturday's downhill and Sunday's super G. The Calgary native has fared well in Lake Louise in year's past - he won his only World Cup race here - a super G three seasons ago. Last year he finished second to Hermann Maier.
In Wednesday's first downhill training run, Kucera was 12th while his teammate Robbie Dixon finished fourth. Thursday's training was cancelled due to heavy snowfall. Saturday's opening downhill is scheduled for 11:30am local time/19:30 CET.