In a great day for Canadian skiing, Jan Hudec won a World Cup downhill for a surprising victory while teammate Erik Guay finished third in piercing cold over an icy slope in Chamonix, France.
Hudec, whose career has been blighted by knee injuries and operations, won for the first time in more than four years Saturday. The 30-year-old from Calgary thumped his chest with his fist when he realized his long wait had ended.
"What can I say? I knew the day was coming," Hudec said. "Sometimes it's harder for everybody else to see, but I knew it was coming. I was close a few times this season, but I was still missing something in my skiing and I knew Chamonix was a good start."
With frigid temperatures at the top of the course, he finished in two minutes 3.25 seconds, followed by Austria's Romed Baumann in 2:03.78. Guay, from Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 0.63 seconds behind the winner.
Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., added to the Canadian surge by sneaking into fifth place despite being the 50th skier to go down.
Switzerland's Beat Feuz was fourth, with Austria's Klaus Kroell sixth and Switzerland's Didier Cuche seventh. The top U.S. skier was Bode Miller in eight place. Miller, who was second in Friday's downhill, lost time in the bottom section after making a solid start.
Hudec was trailing Baumann until he reached the midsection and then started shaving huge chunks off the Austrian's time. While Kroell won Friday's downhill by just 0.01 seconds, Hudec smashed Baumann's time by 0.53 to deprive the Austrians of a second straight win.
This was Hudec's second World Cup victory and first since his downhill triumph at Lake Louise, Alberta, in November 2007. The Canadian had started that year promisingly with a silver medal at the worlds in Are, Sweden, and ended it with a third-place finish in a World Cup downhill at Bormio, Italy, a month later.
Then his career nosedived — he tore ligaments in his right knee and needed repeated surgery. His body was so bashed up that he had full reconstructive surgery on his knee four times, three times on his right and once on his left. What's more, he had two further knee operations and also had severe back problems.
"I woke up this morning feeling the best I've felt for 10, maybe 12 years," Hudec said. "I had no pain."
Hudec had been close Friday, holding the leading time early on before slipping to sixth place.
"I felt yesterday like I had a winning run but it was maybe too early a start ... but no excuses," Hudec said. "I didn't think it was possible, but I had an even better run than yesterday and put the nail in the coffin as they say."
Hudec's run Saturday was even more special because he did not have the best light after starting 24th on the La Verte des Houches course. Those before had blue skies and profited from brighter sunshine.
After a tricky and technical top section, Hudec found himself behind Baumann, but as he started to pick up speed he went 0.36, 0.47 and 0.54 ahead of the Austrian at successive splits.
"I was very confident when I'd finished and I was sure it was enough to win," Baumann said through a translator. "But I didn't have the start list and I didn't realize Hudec was starting after me."