Hudec warms up with win

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

LAKE LOUISE -- Minutes after winning the final training run leading up to today's season-opening World Cup downhill, Jan Hudec put his blazing run into perspective.

"It doesn't mean a damn thing," laughed the affable Calgarian who grew up in nearby Banff.

"If I'm 15th (today) or standing on the podium holding a first-place cheque, no one is going to ask how I did the day before.

"Obviously it's good as it lets you know you're on the right track.

"But when you walk through that corral on race day you've got to forget about it."

Irony is, the goal this weekend is to make sure no one forgets about the strides the Canadian alpine ski team made a year earlier when it won a record 14 World Cup podiums and a silver at the World Championships, courtesy of Hudec. And everyone on the team will tell you the confidence needed to make that jump was born here at the Bombardier Lake Louise Winterstart races when North Vancouver's Manny Osborne-Paradis opened the season with an inspiring downhill silver followed by John Kucera's Super G win.

And just like that a team that leaned heavily on Erik Guay to lead the charge every week had blossomed into a much deeper crew that saw multiple podium threats line up every race.

SUPER TRAINING RUNS

If this week's training runs are any indication, last year's medal haul was no fluke. Four Canadians landed in the top 18 yesterday including Kucera (10th), Guay (14th) and Osborne-Paradis who was fourth a day earlier.

"We're skiing well and we want to show that to everyone else," said Calgary's Kucera, of the importance his team places on this weekend.

"There's no better place to do it than here at home. We had great success here last year, we obviously feel comfortable here and we want to race well in front of our hometown fans."

And they want to stay on the ski racing radar from which they disappeared for the better part of a decade before last season.

"It's priceless, especially when you're trying to promote skiing in Canada and get people interested as we head towards 2010," said Hudec, who has taken to branding the team as the Canadian Cowboys. "If you do well this weekend its not just front page here (in Alberta) but all over Canada. To have a good result could set the stage for the whole season and get people pumped about watching our races in Whistler (in February)."

USUAL SUSPECTS

A handful of the usual suspects also crept into the top 10 yesterday including American bad-boy Bode Miller (3rd) and perennial Austrian favourites Michael Walchhofer (5th) and Hermann Maier (9th).

While temperature at race time hovered around -10 C under sunny skies, race officials got very little help from Mother Nature all week while setting the course.

So little natural snow can be found on the hill that any skier who needs assistance from the mountain would require a helicopter as there isn't enough snow alongside the hard, bumpy course to operate a snowmobile.

While organizers and volunteer course workers continue to draw rave reviews for their efforts at this world-class event, it's still poorly attended outside of the entourage each Canadian skier will have in tow.

"Problem is, last year I dragged so many people here and it was minus 30," laughed Hudec. "So only the diehards are back and they'll get perfect weather."

And quite possibly something to cheer about.


Videos

Photos