Canada’s Jan Hudec has a message for his fans, as well as his competitors: No, he hasn’t retired and yes, he plans to race in the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup.
The 30-year-old alpine star from Calgary, Alta., has battled various injuries in recent years but after resting his back this summer, he says he’s feeling healthy and ready to take on the world’s best on the track where he famously won the downhill back in 2007.
“I’ve been getting the retirement question for about three years, mainly from people who don’t know me personally and don’t know my character,” said Hudec. “They just see an older guy who has had injuries and assume I want to quit. That’s not how I work.
“I’m still passionate about the sport and at the same time I feel like there are things I still haven’t accomplished. If I didn’t believe I could still do it I would retire. But I’m 30 years old and (Swiss star Didier) Cuche is 37. Even if I ski for another five years that’s a lot of time left to accomplish my goals.”
Hudec, who has had multiple knee surgeries, had his 2010-11 World Cup season interrupted by back problems stemming from a herniated disc. He took some extra time off this summer and missed some training on snow. Speaking from Colorado, where Canada’s speed team is preparing for Lake Louise, Hudec believes he is now reaping the rewards of the break.
“It worked out good for me,” he said. “Along with resting my back I also rested my knees and they are probably doing the best they ever have. I’ve also had time to take a mental break from training and spend time with my son Oaklee, who is five.
“I feel ready to ski instead of feeling tired from too much skiing. I’m skiing fast – my times have been really good in training. I know I’m on the right track.”
As part of his preparation for Lake Louise, Hudec will be holding a fundraiser in Calgary on Monday, Nov. 21.
“Skiing is fun, too, but it also takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of work to get to this level,” he said.
Hudec’s victory at Lake Louise in 2007 remains the highlight of a career that also saw him win a silver medal in downhill at the world championships in Are, Sweden, earlier that year.
“It was really emotional,” he said of his golden moment on home soil. “Your mind plays back all the events that led up to that point; all the sacrifices. You kind of get the feeling that it was all worth it.”
Like several other members of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, Hudec grew up racing in Lake Louise and knows the hill like the back of his hand.
“It used to be a glider’s course and thought of as an easy track,” said Hudec. “The last couple of years, they’ve made it quite icy and bumpy, which has made it more challenging to be fast on. One of the best parts about it is that it has a very high average speed – there aren’t a lot of parts where you slow down.”
Hudec, who moved to Canada as a child after his family fled their Czech homeland, isn’t sure how he’ll fare in Lake Louise due to his lack of time on snow. But his ambitions won’t change.
“I hope to win,” he said. “That’s always my goal.”