Just like in men's figure skating, the Canadian alpine ski team has been cursed with burdensome expectations thanks to strong World Cup results but poor Olympic finishes. No Canadian has won a medal in the sport since Ed Podivinsky in 1994, and despite strong seasons, the Canadians were coming into the Olympics on a bit of a down note with two top skiers Jan Hudec and Erik Guay suffering injuries in January. Guay's knee problems forced the prospective medallist into settling for 10th place in the downhill earlier in the week.
Thankfully, a Canadian Olympic custom implies one can literally buy luck. Hudec, born in Czechoslovakia but raised in Calgary, planted the traditional "lucky loonie" in the snow next to the finish line right after his final training run, posting a photo of his handiwork to his Instagram account. The legend of the lucky loonie began in Salt Lake City with the one dollar coin being planted at centre ice of the hockey venue, which apparently played a role in spurring the Canadian men's hockey team onto its first gold medal in 50 years.
Preparation met skill for Hudec Sunday morning on the slopes, earning a shared bronze medal with American Bode Miller with a time of 1:18.67, a little over a half second off the pace set by Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who took gold.
Hudec skied the run directly after Jansrud's gold medal-winning run, posting a good early time at the first two intervals, approximately a quarter second behind Jansrud at each, but lost some time as the course got steeper and it became a question of whether he'd keep up the pace set by Miller earlier on the day. On the final drop of the course, Hudec landed on one ski and went careening through the final three gates at breakneck speed, and it all counted. He was tied, to the hundredth of a second, with Miller for second place and the time wound up being good enough for third.
With his time, Hudec will get to see his adopted nation's flag when he collects his medal. His parents defected from the communist Czechoslovakia back in 1982, on a vacation to then-Yugoslavia, by his parents sailing across the northern part of the Adriatic Sea to Italy, where they traveled up to Germany and settled for four and a half years in a refugee camp. It was there Hudec took up downhill skiing, every weekend travelling to Austria with his family.
“I kind of attribute my passion for skiing today,” Hudec said, “to being out there every weekend in the sun, sometimes in the rain or snow or whatever else, being a family skiing in the mountains.”
The Hudecs’ passion for skiing brought them to Canada in 1987, when Jan Sr. was offered a coaching position at the local ski club in Red Deer, Alberta. The following year, they attended the Winter Olympics.
“When we arrived in Calgary, I didn’t speak any English and my parents barely spoke English but a year later we’re at the Olympics,” Hudec said. “My dad was always a ski racer so I knew it was in my blood, but I definitely remember watching all of the greats skiing the downhill and thinking, ‘This is awesome. This is what I’m gonna be when I grow up.” [NBC]
Hudec has become a rock on a Canadian ski team with Guay and Manuel Osborne-Paradis, with multiple World Cup podiums each but no Olympic medals to their name. Hudec breaks a bit of a curse in that respect, also overcoming a herniated disc in January that threatened to keep him out of action. Despite that, he improved on his downhill placement from the 2010 Olympics, finishing 21st, although he was upset with his performance.
"We came here for a medal," he told reporters after the downhill run. "I think my back was good enough to put down a good enough performance today so I didn't have any excuses."
Given the amount of snow on the mountains for the alpine events this week, it's surprising the coin buried by Hudec managed to stay hidden, but Hudec didn't want to go into the day having to worry about another potential excuse, with it being over a generation since Lady Luck was on the side of Canadian skiers at the Olympics. Sports sometimes has fans cheering for the supernatural, with bizarre quirks and superstitions done almost without thinking that impact little on actual results, but they feel great when they appear to work, and Hudec's teammate Morgan Pridy felt the good vibes. The 23-year-old finished 10th in the event in his first ever Olympic games.