Growing up in Calgary, John Kucera is intimately familiar with the downhill run at Lake Louise, but home advantage has its drawbacks as well. There is more pressure to do well with family, friends and former coaches on the sidelines, with all of the Calgary media focused on his every move, and with the higher expectations he has set for himself.
Kucera is the first Canadian to win gold in super G on Canadian soil, topping the field at Lake Louise Winterstart in 2006.
After a respectable showing again in 2007 — seventh place in downhill and SG — Kucera came into the 2008 races on a mission, making the fastest downhill run last Friday, the last day of training.
He went on to have a disappointing day in the downhill on Saturday — 35 th place — but was back on form Sunday to win the silver medal in SG behind resurgent Austrian legend Hermann Maier.
Maier, once called the “Herminator,” was the most dominant skier in the world until he almost lost a leg in 2001 after a motorcycle accident. He has had strong results since then, including winning the SG and overall World Cup titles in 2004, but has since dropped off the leader board as other Austrian skiers have stepped up. He even considered retiring after last season, but found his groove again while training on glaciers in May.
Kucera, who is 12 years younger than Maier, said it was a privilege to share the podium with a skier he idolized while growing up.
“Absolutely, it’s special,” he said. “Growing up, Maier was one of my idols. It is always good to stay competitive with those guys… like (bronze medal winner) Didier Cuche competing for overalls.”
Kucera has found consistency since his first World Cup win, but did not make a single podium last season despite solid runs in downhill, super G, and giant slalom races. He knew he was close.
“Last year was a really good year, really consistent, but it was just off the podium,” he said. “So it was nice to finally find those couple of hundredths of seconds to put me back on the podium.
“It’s always a great feeling to make it on the podium, whoever it is. We train as a group and we are all competitive as a group. So when you see one of your teammates on the podium you know that anyone could be there on any given day, so it just keeps us hanging in there.”