Canadian skiers putting pedal to medal

Jan Hudec, of Canada, makes a turn during alpine skiing training for the Men's World Cup Downhill...

Jan Hudec, of Canada, makes a turn during alpine skiing training for the Men's World Cup Downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta November 24, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Blake)

SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

CALGARY - It’s a position Jan Hudec isn’t really used to.

He’s the healthy one.

Over the years, the World Cup veteran has battled injury after injury.

From six major knee surgeries, to bumps and bruises, to the back pain he endured late last season that forced him to take extra precautions this summer, the 30-year-old has been through a lot.

But right now, he heads into Saturday’s downhill event at Lake Louise as healthy as ever, with one thing on his mind: Podium.

“For me, expectations are pretty high, and anything less than what I have in my head is going to be a disappointment,” Hudec said.

His teammates? Not so much.

He’s watched fellow Calgarian John Kucera, 27, rehab hard from a devastating broken leg at Lake Louise in 2009. He thought he was ready earlier this year, but a binding broke in a practice run and it set him back.

There’s one thing one his mind, too, but it’s not winning — it’s just progressing and staying healthy.

“It’ll be nice just to get back into that start gate, get through a run and take it day-by-day,” Kucera said. “It’s going to be nice to get the weekend done, but what’s really going to be nice is to get through a season and still be sitting there in one piece.”

Meanwhile, star downhiller Erik Guay, 30, nursed a back injury for much of 2011 that has the Quebec native scaling back his lofty expectations to begin the season.

“I’m always excited this time of year,” said Guay, who’s healthy, but rusty. “I feel like the training season gets long and monotonous and I’m always anxious to get back on the slopes.

“But this is going to be kind of a weird year for me. I took a lot of time away from the skiing this summer. I didn’t do a lot of on-snow camps and I just tried to deal with the back problems that I had, so I don’t know how that’s going to translate into the beginning of the season.

“I’m typically a slow-starter anyway, so I think I’m going to be an even slower-starter this year.”

Having been through the rehab process, Hudec has been there for the guys battling injury.

“In a way, you let each guy do their own rehab how they want to,” Hudec said. “At the beginning, you can give them pointers and dos and don’ts, but as in life, people can tell you whatever they want and you eventually have to figure things out for yourself and what the best way to do something is and what works for you.

“It’s hard when you go through a lot of injuries and you see other guys get injured. You kind of sympathize with them. You know what they’re going through. When they look down and out, you can kind of go up to them and say, ‘Hey, man keep your chin up, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.’ ”

The light starts shining on Kucera when the gate drops Saturday in the downhill (11 a.m., CBC) and Sunday in the super-G.

“As much as I’d love to say I’m going to pop in there and start finishing on the podium and get right back to where I was before, it’s not realistic,” Kucera said. “My expectations for this season are much more humbled. Basically aiming for the top 30, just to get some points and start the building process. My goals are more long-term.”


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