Canada's Kucera wins world downhill
Takes the gold on a historic site for Canuck racers
John Kucera couldn't have chosen a better course or a better time to win his first major men's downhill race.
The 24-year-old Calgary native took the first-ever world championship downhill gold medal by a Canadian male, winning in Val D'Isere, France, a historic place for his country's downhillers.
It was on the same spot in December 1975 that Ken Read became the first North American male to win a major downhill competition, a World Cup victory that began the legend of the Crazy Canucks.
Read would go on to run Alpine Canada for six years until last summer — a time in which his vision and energy transformed a moribund program into one capable of strongly competing again on the world stage.
Kucera, a product of that program under his head coach, Max Gartner, came down the fast, icy Face de Bellevarde course in 2 minutes 7.01 seconds. That's 0.04 seconds ahead of Didier Cuche of Switzerland and 0.17 up on third-place Swiss Carlo Janka.
But Kucera would have to wait a little longer than normal for the victory to be confirmed because 2003 winner Michael Walchhofer of Austria was given a re-run after mistakenly being allowed to start from his scheduled No. 21 spot despite an official hold for fog.
Walchhofer moved from 12th to ninth with the second run and then was put back when a later decision on the confusing day overturned the original re-run.
"It was a long wait," Kucera said, after almost an hour of wondering if he'd done enough. "I was definitely nervous when Walochhofer came down the second time.
"To get my first downhill podium in a world championship is unbelievable."
Kucera's previous best downhill finish was seventh in November 2007 at Lake Louise, Alta.
He came out of the gate in the No. 2 starting spot under clear skies and good light. But after about a dozen racers fog began rolling in, slowing down later times.
"I don't think I was on the crashing edge today, but I definitely pushed the line on a few sections," Kucera said by conference call from France.
"This course is very steep, icy, it was getting quite rough, the track, and it's very technical."
It's also not the type of mountain that calls for technical perfection.
"The thing is, nobody on this course is going to come down and have that perfect run where you make no mistakes and have an awesome run," he said.
"It's the kind of course you're going to fight and try as hard as you can," Kucera added. "You're going to make mistakes left, right and centre, and it's really the guy who takes the most chances and pushes that fine line.
"Today, luckily, that's me."
Other Canucks struggle
Kucera's good fortune did not rub off on the other Canadians racers.
Jan Hudec, who won a world championship silver two years ago in downhill, crashed near the finish and slid for more than 50 metres with his skis on before hitting a fence.
He got up in a few minutes and skied down the rest of the way.
Erik Guay fell near the same spot as Hudec but was uninjured, and Manuel Osborne-Paradis missed a gate about halfway down.
Despite his own disappointment, Osborne-Paradis was thrilled for Kucera.
"This is huge for us going into the Olympics [next year in Vancouver]," he said. "Especially for John, who has been struggling in giant slalom."
Kucera credits the new attitude brought to the program in the last seven years — one that says just making the team isn't enough, you have to win — as being key to the overall success of the Canadian skiers, both men and women.
Especially with Vancouver 2010 on the horizon.
"At the Olympic Games, only three places count and that's one, two, and three," he said.
"If we're here and we're competing, we have to go for the win, put it all on the line and I would say [just] participating and being part of it, that's not acceptable."