Banking on Ondrej Bank?
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK – Coming back from adversity is an overarching theme at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships with all of the amazing return-from-injury stories starring Lindsey Vonn, Aksel Lund Svindal, Beat Feuz and even Bode Miller before his crash in his unbelievable super-G run earlier this week.
But few World Cup racers have overcome more health-related obstacles than the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Bank.
Bank is one to watch in today’s alpine combined race following his seventh-place finish in Saturday’s downhill, just over a half-a-second away from a gold medal, and after his third-place finish in the alpine combined race in Kitzbuehel, Austria, his only World Cup podium besides his big 2007 podium in the Beaver Creek combined race.
SEEING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
The 34-year-old is coached by his brother and had his first World Cup start a rather startling 14 years ago. He has competed in four Winter Olympic Games and this is his seventh World Championships. He is waiting for his shining moment. But following a bout with a rare virus that hospitalized him for months and numerous other major injuries, he sees everything in a new light.
“I do everything a little different. It’s not about results now. It’s about (how) it’s just nice to be on the hill,” Bank said. “If I’m talking with my wife and she’s pissed about small things, I tell her, ‘Be happy because you’re healthy. You have a healthy son … everything.’ That’s what’s important.”
The virus, which he contracted in the spring of 2011 while on vacation in Thailand from either the water or the food — his doctors still aren’t quite sure — spun him into an intense fever for six months. He dropped more than 30 pounds. He honestly thought he might never see a racecourse again, much less ski down one.
“I wasn’t thinking about skiing at all,” he said. “It was pretty serious.”
Bank, who no longer experiences symptoms from the mystery illness but still has to undergo a number of tests at the hospital every six months, was no stranger to health issues before this. In his ski career, he has had three broken legs, several broken hands, a shattered shin, two major knee surgeries following ACL tears, a dislocated shoulder sustained after hitting a gate here in Beaver Creek and, as the result of another run-in with a gate while training in Chile, a shattered jaw. But the illness was the worst.
“I think already before that, my view was a little different than others,” he said. “It was just another bad thing. I was laughing because it was so bad. I was saying if I will not die now, I will win some medal.”
HAPPY TO BE HEALTHY
Now, in the midst of the best season of his career — in addition to the podium in the Kitzbuehel, there was also an eighth place in the Wengen, Switzerland, alpine combined and a ninth in that downhill — Bank is truly a medal contender going into today’s alpine combined race.
“It’s a little bit like a dream because I felt somewhere inside me that I can do a thing like this,” he said. “But after two years of no skiing, to have this chance and do the podium in Kitzbuehel and a few good results in Wengen … it’s like a dream for me.”
But a medal isn’t really at the top of the Czech’s priority list after all he’s been through. He’s just here to enjoy the experience.
“After my injuries and illness, it changed me a lot,” he said. “Sounds a little bit like a cliche, but for me it’s not really. The important thing is to be healthy.”
Rita’s two closest peers have climbed the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak 21 times each, but both of them have retired from mountain climbing.