Two decades' worth of waiting for the Canadian Alpine Ski Team to deliver an Olympic podium performance finally came to an end Sunday when Jan Hudec captured a super-G bronze medal, adding another chapter to his remarkable career.
The 32-year-old Canadian Cowboy, known as much for his perseverance through injuries over the years as he's been for his results, tied with American skier Bode Miller for third place to earn the country's first Olympic medal in the sport in 20 years.
"As long as they don't give me just half the medal I'm fine with it," Hudec joked with media following the race.
Meanwhile, Whistler's Morgan Pridy had a breakout performance, finishing 10th in the super-G for the next-best Canadian result. Fellow Whistler Mountain Ski Club alum Manuel Osborne-Paradis finished 24th, while Erik Guay skied off course.
Hudec has a laundry list of injuries that grew longer just weeks before the Sochi Games kicked off, making his top-three finish at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center all the more astonishing. Seven knee surgeries, including four complete reconstructions. Three of those were on his right knee, in which bone grinds on bone as he races. Hand and thumb ailments. Persistent back pain, too — a slipped disc suffered while dryland training in January left him bedridden and off the World Cup circuit as the Olympics were fast approaching.
"Between 2003 and 2010, or 2011 even, I didn't do a lot of skiing," said Hudec. "That was kind of the joke on the team for a long time.
"I try not to think about it and now you're making me think about it, it's pretty brutal. On my right knee, there's not a lot of cartilage left. Yeah, it hurts when I'm skiing."
Through it all, nobody has ever doubted Hudec's ability to be a world-class racer. Sunday's Olympic medal is further validation of a career that already includes a world championship medal — a silver in downhill from 2007 — two World Cup victories and three more podium finishes.
"Jan's shown so much speed throughout his career and it's awesome that he can put it together on such big days," Guay told the Canadian Press. "He's done it at world championships. He's had so many injuries that have kept him out of the game. He really showed up today and he threw it down in a big way.
"It's incredible and I'm thrilled for him as a teammate."
In an email to Pique, Pridy said Hudec's medal was special for the entire Canadian men's team, which had won on nearly every stage but the Olympics in the past eight years.
"Jan's medal means so, so much," said Pridy. "I never had a doubt that this team would be on the podium, I just didn't know who it would be.
"I'm so proud to be part of this group of guys, and there couldn't be a nicer guy to be on the steps here."
Hudec's medal broke Canada's Olympic medal drought in alpine racing that stretched back to Edi Podivinsky's downhill bronze at the Lillehammer Games in 1994. He's just the third Canadian skier to step on an Olympic podium — the other is Canada's chef de mission in Sochi, Steve Podborski.
"Every ski racer's journey is full of accidents and pain and recovery," Podborski told CP. "In every sport you lose way more than you win, and that makes the victories all that more sweet. He did a fantastic job today."
Norway's Kjetil Jansrud won gold, his third Olympic medal and second from Sochi after his downhill bronze. American skier Andrew Weibrecht collected the silver.
PRIDY COMPLETES MEMORABLE OLYMPIC DEBUT
When Pridy arrived at the super-G finish on Sunday, he saw something he's never seen before at any World Cup race: his name atop the leaderboard.
The 23-year-old had no top-20 finishes on the World Cup tour to his name heading into his first Olympics, but he accomplished that feat twice during his races from Sochi, placing 19th in super combined before his incredible super-G top 10.
Pridy's time in first place on Sunday was short lived. Wearing bib No. 6, Pridy grabbed an early lead that was gone by the time Italy's Peter Fill, starting eighth, reached the finish. But for Pridy, the moment was unforgettable.
"My result felt awesome," he said. "Crossing the finish line with the green light brought on a lot of emotion, and getting to stand in the leaders' box at the Olympics, even for a short amount of time, is something I will never forget."
Pridy also skied the giant slalom on Wednesday, Feb. 19 and placed 33rd, while fellow Canadian Olympic rookies Trevor Philp (25th) and Phil Brown (29th) put in strong showings. The race was won by U.S. skier Ted Ligety, who was flanked on the podium by French skiers Steve Missillier and Alexis Pinturault, while Austria's Marcel Hirscher was a disappointing fourth.
Pridy, who clinched his spot at the Games on the final day of the qualification window by posting a career-best result at Kitzbühel, Austria — the World Cup tour's biggest men's stop — arrived in Sochi without much pressure to perform. The Whistler Mountain Ski Club product said he wasn't sure what to expect out of himself at his first Olympics.
"I knew I wanted to get here, to qualify and be a part of the team representing Canada," he said. "Once I arrived, though, I worked hard to make it seem like just another race. I guess everyone, myself included, envisions having a medal being put around their neck here. I mean, how could you not? Especially with such a great team around you performing every day in a hundred different sports.
"But I am very happy with how I skied and my super-G placing. I think it's a great place to build from."
Last year's Nor-Am Cup super-G champ had a chance to get his Olympic jitters out of the way in the combined, won by Swiss skier Sandro Viletta, and Pridy said he was glad that the all-around race came up first on the Sochi schedule.
"It was definitely a good thing to have a start under my belt before racing the super-G," he said. "I knew coming into this week that super-G would be my best opportunity to make a good result, and that weighed on me a little."
GAGNON'S GAMES FRUSTRATING
It's been a tough Olympics for Marie-Michele Gagnon, who went into Sochi as Canada's best hope for a medal on the women's side, but so far has three DNFs from three races.
Though she was healthy enough to race after suffering a separated shoulder in last week's super combined, she was among the early victims of the super-G course that saw seven of the first eight starters fail to finish on Feb. 15. Canada's Marie-Pier Prefontaine finished 20th, while Larisa Yurkiw didn't finish.
Gagnon also skied out in the GS on Feb. 18, as did Prefontaine, though Erin Mielzynski came through with a 21st-place result.
The good news for the Canadian women is that their best event is yet to come. Gagnon is currently ranked fourth on the World Cup in slalom, while Mielzynski has earned her best results in the discipline and has been on the podium before. Rising stars Brittany Phelan and Elli Terwiel will also look to make their mark in the slalom, which takes place on Friday, Feb. 21.
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