John Kucera is back on snow!
By Michael Mastarciyan
Reigning World Downhill Champion John Kucera is back on snow.
The 26-year-old Canadian Cowboy has been off skis since crashing hard and breaking his left leg during last November’s season-opening World Cup super-G race at Lake Louise, Alberta.
On Sunday, Kucera made his first turns on snow in nearly a year with Canadian Alpine Ski Team men’s head coach Paul Kristofic by his side.
Ironically, Kucera’s return to on-snow training happened at Lake Louise, the same mountain that ended the friendly Albertan’s race season last year - forcing him to miss the Olympic Winter Games on his home soil in Whistler.
“It funny was to be back at Lake Louise because the last time I skied there I ended up crashing. It was kind of ironic to make my return there, but it was also nice to get that first hurdle out of the way at “the scene of the crime” so to speak. Now that it’s done, we can move on to better things,” Kucera said.
Kristofic, Kucera’s ski boss and “partner in crime” for the day agreed.
“Yes, Johnny’s return to the scene of the crime was a success and I definitely can see the irony in the location we chose for his comeback,” Kristofic said with a laugh.
Kucera confessed he was a little nervous about getting back on snow for the first time, but said he was also very excited.
“When I first started out I made a few slow easy turns to get a feel for how my leg would react. The first run was a fairly relaxed one. But by the time I went out for my second run I felt more confident and started pushing it a little bit harder. By then end of the day my comfort level had risen considerably and I was putting down some GS turns that made me feel like I was getting back into the groove.”
“Johnny was really focused and looking forward to getting back onto his skis. We started skiing around 8:30 in the morning and he admitted he was a little nervous when we were going up the chair, but he was happy and relieved with a big smile on his face when he completed his first run,” Kristofic added.
Kucera said his return to snow had been in the works for some time. Initially doctors had hoped he would be ready for the team’s first on-snow summer camp in New Zealand last July - but the injury hadn’t healed as quickly as they had hoped for and Kucera was forced to continue his training on dry land. Then, according to Kristofic, late last week, team doctors gave Kucera the news he had been waiting the last 11-months for - the green light to get back on snow.
“Johnny was cleared by the doctors for on-snow training on November 4th. We checked conditions on Friday and decided we’d go for a ski on Sunday. It was nice to see him back out there and I’m pretty happy with the result,” Kristofic said.
“When my return to skiing was first delayed it was a bit hard to take because I had worked really hard and had been very optimistic about my return date. After getting news of the delay I realized that there is a lot of patience involved in this process and it’s definitely important to let the injury heal properly because I don’t want to have any issues with it once I return. I was definitely getting sick of only being in the gym and was really looking forward to getting back out on the hill and doing what I love to do,” Kucera added.
In terms of a return to racing, Kristofic said the strategy is to take it slow and not rush.
“We’re not putting dates on a calendar for a return. We’re going to be patient and let Johnny heal properly before going full throttle again. He looked good today and it didn’t look like there were any issues. It was exactly what we had hoped from a skiing perspective and from a pain perspective. He had a little bit of tenderness but no real issues where the break was. In terms of form he was athletic, balanced and symmetrical on his skis. His skiing looked natural, not mechanical and he had good flow.”
And when I asked Kucera about any timelines he may have for a return to competition he echoed Kristofic’s sentiment.
“My career in this sport is still a long one and I just want to make sure I don’t rush back and re-aggravate the injury, turning it from a one year layoff to a possible ongoing issue that could haunt me for the rest of my career. My goals here are to get comfortable again on my skis and build my confidence, so that when I do make my return to the World Cup I’m in a position to pick up from where I left off and compete at a high level.”
With his first tracks now behind him, Kucera is going to resume a more normal training regime according to Kristofic.
“We can’t draw any conclusions from one day back on snow but I can say it was positive. What we need to take away from the experience is that Johnny skied without any immediate problems or pain. He will ski again on Wednesday after dryland testing on Monday and Tuesday. Then if he’s good to go after that, he’ll be skiing every second day.”