In the lead-up to the 2010 Games, Dave Duncan was making all the right moves. He had two World Cup podiums and a silver medal at X Games to his credit, ensuring himself a spot with the team in the 2010 Winter Games.
But ski cross is a tough and unforgiving sport, and on the first day of training at the Olympic venue at Cypress he crashed and broke his collarbone. He would miss the rest of that season. The following summer he broke his wrist while downhill mountain biking. He came into the 2010-2011 season with injuries and never really recovered.
"Last season I was riddled with small injuries that just didn't allow me to compete at 100 per cent," Duncan told Pique in a phone interview on Tuesday. "I could still ski, I just couldn't compete at my best — I had a strained groin, broken metatarsal, sprained thumbs, and all these general injuries that I suffered in competition. Last year in a 30-day stretch I had probably three of the biggest crashes of my life — I didn't blow out a knee or break a leg thankfully, but it still did quite a bit of damage to my body — and my psyche. It messes with your confidence."
Despite the injuries, Duncan was determined to come back and trained hard this summer to come into the current season healthy. And now, at the midway point of this season, he has a bronze medal at the World Cup level and two fourth place finishes, and is currently ranked seventh in the world. Last weekend he followed up with a third place at X Games, on one of the biggest, toughest and most technical courses in the world.
"A big motivation for me (coming back from injury) is just coming up short of competing in the Olympics," he said. "You've probably talked to lots of athletes who have said that competing in the Games was a childhood dream of theirs, and I'm no different, I had the same dream. To get that close and walk in the opening ceremonies that you've been striving for your entire career, and then to come up injured 24 hours short... The next day I was already motivated to come back and compete for a spot in Sochi. Even now with all the nagging injuries, I just want to get as healthy as possible and get back at it."
There are risks, Duncan acknowledged, but he couldn't picture doing anything else.
"We all love competing and we love our sport — if we didn't love it, we wouldn't do it," he said. "It's an incredible thing to be an athlete in ski cross and be able to do this for a living, and I'm so grateful to be here. I hope I can do it for as long as I decide to."