Kucera's return highlights downhill opener | Skiing | CBC Sports

Kucera's return highlights downhill opener

Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | 02:50 PM

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Canada's John Kucera, the 2009 downhill world champion, is set to return from a horrific leg injury on the same Lake Louise mountain on which he was hurt two years ago. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press) Canada's John Kucera, the 2009 downhill world champion, is set to return from a horrific leg injury on the same Lake Louise mountain on which he was hurt two years ago. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

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The alpine skiing season begins in earnest this weekend with the opening men's speed events at Lake Louise, Alta., highlighted by Canadian John Kucera, who's returning to racing after injury, and teammate Eric Guay, who's the reigning world downhill champion.
Heading West on Highway 1, as the mountains begin to grow out of the prairie landscape, there is a telling billboard. It reads: "The car passing your right now is headed here... Winterstart Lake Louise World Cup"

That sounds about right as I look to see my coach driving an average of 130km/h, wishing he was willing to risk going even faster. Yes, we ski racers like speed, and are excitedly driving to the mountains for the beginning of the World Cup season this weekend.

Lake Louise

This week at a press conference in Calgary, the athletes competing at Lake Louise were announced. Kids filled the room with signs and cowbells to cheer them on. It was an electric and true ski racing atmosphere, the perfect send-off for the athletes as they will soon travel over 140km/h down Gun Barrel (a section of the course in Lake Louise).

The temperatures have dropped (hitting minus-20, before wind chill, over the weekend) which means it's time: the ski season is upon us.

Here's a look at what to expect from Canada's ski racers this season, beginning with the downhill opener on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 1 p.m. ET).

Men's team

Our men's team will kick it off this weekend, highlighted by John Kucera, who's returning to racing after injury, and Eric Guay, who's the reigning world downhill champion.

Kucera, the world downhill champion in 2009, severely broke his leg in Lake Louise the following season. He returned to snow a year later, only to break it again. Having rehabbed next to him for the last two years, I can attest to the hard work he's put into this return. It's been a long road and he'll be returning to competition on the same slope where he first broke his leg - not an easy thing to do. Johnny's return has been highly anticipated and the ski world will finally regain one of its star athletes.

Another comeback kid (other than Sid the Kid) is Robbie Dixon. After suffering a severe concussion last season, he is now making his return to the speed events. He is always someone to watch - full of potential, talent, and a hard worker. Hopefully this year it will all come together for him.

Then there is our superstar of late, Guay. In 2003 he earned his first World Cup podium here at Lake Louise, but he has yet to climb the podium again on home turf. Hopefully this will be his year. With many young Canadian racers - like Louis-Pierre Helie, Dustin Cook, Ben Thompson, and Kelby Halbert - pushing for their chance in the spotlight, Eric won't be holding back.

Internationals to watch will include the usual stars like Didier Cuche and Aksel Lund Svindal. The talent and superstar status of the athletes hitting the slopes this coming weekend will certainly keep any crowd in awe as they're sure to put on a great show.

Women's team

Once the men have packed up and moved onto Beaver Creek for next week's World Cup stop, the women will have their turn to take on the mountain at Lake Louise. Unlike our men's team, the women's side is in the midst of a rebuilding and growing phase.

We'll have new faces like Sarah Freeman and Tess Davies representing Canada in the downhill. It will be the first World Cup start for each - an exciting time for any athlete. We'll certainly be cheering them on and hoping for personal bests as they learn and grow into strong speed queens.

In the super-G, Marie-Michelle Gagnon will be joining the start list. She has had success in giant slalom and slalom, with a top-30 result here at the Lake last year. She's been fast in training and is expected to build on her success. Madison McLeish is also in the mix to qualify for the super-G event. The next two weeks will decide who starts what.

As with the men's side, the internationals to watch will be the standard superstars of late. Lindsey Vonn and Maria Hoefl-Riesh are the ones to watch, having both regularly stood atop the podium here in Canada. Lindsey has had an incredible start to the season, winning her first career World Cup GS in Soelden, Austria. I have no doubt she will be hard to beat once again this year.

My update

As for me, I'm sadly sidelined from Lake Louise again this year, however I am working hard towards my return.

I was in gates for the first time last week (video clips and images here) and felt great! The first four days of skiing were nearly pain-free - an incredible feeling. However, the knee is still adapting and I'm still learning its limits. I pushed skiing one day too many and found myself having to take a few days off to let it settle down.  

My knee and I are getting to know each other. It's a learning process as I nurture the knee, fuel it, learn from it, and am humbled by it. However, like all good relationships, when my knee and I are working as a team, anything is possible.

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