Canada’s Kucera wins gold in downhill at worlds
VAL D’ISERE, France (AP) ” Canada’s goal to win the most medals at the Vancouver Olympics in one year got a big boost Saturday: John Kucera became the first Canadian man to win the downhill at a world championships.
Kucera skied flawlessly and then watched one top skier after another fail to match him, either because of the fog or because he was too fast.
“It was the race of my life,” Kucera said.
He finished in 2 minutes, 7.01 seconds. Didier Cuche of Switzerland, who won the super-G Wednesday, was 0.04 behind, and Carlo Janka of Switzerland was third, 0.17 back.
Miller, winless this season in World Cup competition, was slowed by fog and finished eighth.
“It’s always a little tough when the weather plays a deciding factor, but it’s also ski racing,” the New Hampshire skier said. “It’s not the first time it has happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last. You do need some luck.”
Kucera set himself apart from Canadian men on the Bellevarde course. Teammate Jan Hudec took the silver in the downhill at the last worlds in Are, Sweden, two years ago. Steve Podborski finished third in downhill at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, which doubled as worlds.
Along with Ken Read, Dave Irwin and Dave Murray, Podborski was a member of the Crazy Canucks, the generation that put Canada on the skiing map in the 1970s and ’80s.
When Read won in Val d’Isere in 1975, he became the first non-European man to win a World Cup downhill.
“The Crazy Canucks were the first guys to put Canada in the spotlight,” Kucera said. “We’re the Canadian Cowboys and hopefully we can raise the bar for the new generation.”
Kucera, whose parents emigrated from the Czech Republic, was born and raised in Calgary. He grew up skiing on the slopes used for the 1988 Olympics.
“The runs there are pretty steep without many flats, so maybe that helped me here,” he said.
Austrian great Hermann Maier was the first skier on the course, and Kucera started next.
“When you come down and you’re that far ahead of Hermann Maier ” one of the best skiers in the world ” I knew it was going to be a great result, but I didn’t know I was going to win,” Kucera said.
Canada’s other three racers ” Hudec, Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Erik Guay ” also posted fast times until they ran into trouble on the lower section of the course and did not finish.
“I think we have a very good downhill group,” Canadian Alpine director Max Gartner said. “They all have different strengths. This is a very different course than Whistler (the Olympic ski site). It’s a little more gliding and that suits Guay and Osborne very well.”
Kucera also acknowledged what this will mean for Vancouver.
“The biggest thing to come out of this is knowing we have the ability to put it together on the biggest stage after the Olympics,” he said. “That’s a huge boost of confidence.”
Bothered by injuries, Kucera hadn’t won a race since taking a World Cup super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November 2006.
“We’re happy for John,” Guay said. “He’s a guy that works really hard. He hasn’t had a great season. He’s been struggling trying to get back on track and a week ago he started skiing well.”
Kucera finished sixth in the super-G that opened the worlds Wednesday.
“It’s a testament to his determination,” said Guay, who has 10 World Cup podium finishes in his career. “He hasn’t been getting in the top 30 in super-G and downhill, but he kept working hard, trying to get his feeling back, and then he came through on the most important day of the year.”
Gartner’s wife, Kerrin-Lee Gartner, won the downhill at the 1992 Albertville Olympics in nearby Meribel.
“It seems to be a bit of a lucky spot for us,” Gartner said.