No hurting Jan's drive

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

One of the most memorable of CTV's new Olympic commercials shows Jan Hudec atop the peak of the Canadian ski team's training facility at Farnham Glacier, declaring, "I believe."

And while the footage from what looks like the top of the world is stirring, equally as amazing is the fact Hard Luck Hudec didn't stumble off the precipice.

Instead, the injury-plagued speedster waited three races into his latest comeback from right-knee surgery to rag-doll down a mountain, destroying this left knee at the World Championships in France Saturday, ending yet another season.

And while the sixth surgery of his career is set for next week, it should come as no surprise the resilient Calgarian is hell-bent on being back on mountaintops this fall with plenty of time to compete at the Whistler Olympics next February.

"I still believe," said Hudec, 27, from his Calgary home yesterday.

"Maybe there will be some people who'll have a hard time believing in me, but I believe. I'm far from counting myself out, and I'm excited to start this process again. It's just a matter of staying positive."

Having already defied naysayers by winning a World Cup race and a World Championship silver following two of his three knee reconstructions, Hudec is as well-versed in defying the odds as he is in rehabbing. However, he admits he's running out of ways to console the legion of well-wishers flooding his cellphone again this week.

"People who are close to me feel worse for (physiotherapist) Kent Kobelka, and they're sending their condolences straight to him because he'll have to deal with me for another six months," laughed one of the great characters in Canadian amateur sport, who won at Lake Louise last season, tore his knee and promptly dedicated his ski team Athlete of the Year Award to Kobelka.

"People don't even know what to say to me any more. I joke around and try not to make it awkward for them."

And so, when asked about the latest in his collection of crashes, he simply references the easily-accessed video.

"It's on YouTube -- five stars, baby!" said Hudec.

"It wasn't my best one, but definitely you can tell where the knee went. I've done the right one enough times to know right away it was finished. Adding insult to injury, I got all tangled in the net a few hundred feet down and was hanging upside down in pain. They wanted to helicopter me off the hill or slide me down on a meatwagon, but I said no way. I got one ski on, slid down and enjoyed the rest of the race by Johnny's side."

As in Johnny Kucera, who this year one-upped Hudec's silver earned at the 2007 World Championships with a gold no Canadian has ever won.

"Johnny's win took some of the sting out of it," said Hudec, who is expected to be out six months.

"Normally they would've dragged me out of there and then to Geneva for an MRI, but I basically knew what my fate was. I just wanted to stick around. Johnny made history, so the knee could wait. It was awesome to celebrate with him in the finish. All in all, a good weekend for Canada but bad weekend for me."

As for next week's surgery in London, Ont., Hudec is fairly sure he knows what his old pal, Dr. Robert Litchfield, will do.

"I think they'll do a double bundle allograft -- most likely," said Hudec, with all seriousness. "I need an honorary degree on my wall."

And he needs the type of break that doesn't involve ligaments, bones or anything of the sort.

If there's any justice out there, it will come next year in Whistler where his latest setback only thickens the plot for what could be one of the unlikeliest of Olympic triumphs.

That, of course, is if you --like Hudec -- believe.


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