The (cow)boys are back: John Kucera back on snow
At their first snow camp of the summer in Zermatt, Switzerland, John Kucera, Louis-Pierre Hélie and Robbie Dixon returned to snow on Wednesday as they continue their rehabilitation from serious injuries. Their return provides a huge boost to a talented Canadian team that suffered injuries to several stars during the 2010/11 World Cup season.
"There's always strength in numbers and there's a real feeling of team in our group. When you're missing even one racer you feel it. When you're missing three or four you really feel it," said Paul Kristofic, head coach of Canada's men's team. "Everybody's injury is different but we are lucky to have several guys coming back at the same time. They can encourage each other."
While many see a return to snow as the first major step on the road back to competition, all three guys have been working hard to get themselves to the point where they're ready to strap on skis.
"It seems like it's just the beginning but the real beginning was just after the injury. That's the part nobody sees and it's often the most difficult part," said Kristofic. "There's a whole lot of hard work on their part to get to this point."
Dixon, who has been out since December 2010 after suffering a concussion, officially made his return to snow last week when he spent a couple of days skiing on the glacier at Whistler Blackcomb. Hélie was skiing for the first time after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in a crash in Bormio, Italy, in December 2010. Kucera returned to snow last season but in February he reinjured the same leg he originally broke in late 2009.
"I feel confident. I've been through it before so I have an idea of what to expect," said Kucera, the 2009 world downhill champion. "I'm not expecting to feel great; I'm not expecting to just jump in."
Kucera, who is renowned for his work ethic and determination on and off the hill, is on a modified return to snow program that will likely see him spend alternate days on and off snow.
"The first two weeks is really more part of the rehab than actual skiing," he explained. "First and foremost we will see how it goes."
With a centralized summer training program in Calgary, the men's team has been working out together at Canada Olympic Park under the supervision of conditioning coach Matt Price.
"Personally, I think I made great strides this summer and I feel like the whole team made great strides," said Kucera. "I'm in shape and feeling confident and we still have another two blocks of training. I'm a bit ahead of the curve."
Fellow speed team member Manuel Osborne-Paradis, who broke his leg in January, is continuing his rehabilitation in Calgary and is expected to return to snow later this year. Jan Hudec will also continue working out in Calgary after receiving treatment for a back injury.
For Kucera, the long-term goal is to return to competition some time this season - and if possible, on his home hill. But he won't be making any predictions or rushing things.
"I would love to make a comeback at Lake Louise - that's kind of my dream comeback," said Kucera, who won a super-G World Cup race at Lake Louise in 2006. "Come October we'll see how things are."