There is one Canadian alpine skier happier than John Kucera to hear the former downhiller is ready to come back to skiing from his broken leg. It's Erik Guay.
"The weight's off my shoulders," said Guay who took over as alpine's senior leader on the hills after the team seemed to disappear around him into an ambulance.
Not that it prevented Guay's excellence since the Olympics. Guay, 30, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., is the reigning world downhill champ, succeeding Kucera. Guay won the Crystal Globe for the 2010 Super-G competition and beat Crazy Canuck Ken Read's total of 14 World Cup wins with his 15th last season. He's second only to Steve Podborski in Canadian alpine wins.
But it will be nice to have teammates around him this season. "It's always good to have a strong team around you – especially because I share a [ski] service man with Johnny. We develop a lot of new products for the manufacturers and [for two years] it all fell on my shoulders," Guay said.
"It's absolutely great to have Johnny coming back – and some of the women are coming back, too, which will give them more leadership."
Canadian skiers have seen almost as many doctors as teammates in the past two seasons. Besides Kucera, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, 26, of Invermere, B.C., broke his left leg and tore ligaments at Chamonix, France. Ottawa's Ryan Semple also suffered a season-ending knee injury training on the same hill. Robbie Dixon suffered a concussion, Francois Bourque a knee injury, Jan Hudec a broken hand, Louis-Pierre Helie a concussion and injured knee and Kelly McBroom a broken ankle. Kelly VanderBeek is still getting over a knee injury and Larisa Yurkiw is just ready to start racing through in the NorAm circuit. They're now the elder-stateswomen among women's alpine skiers in Canada with the retirement of Emily Brydon and Britt Janyk.
"I don't fear for Johnny," Guay said. "But it will be a long road back. We shouldn't expect too much out of him, right out of the blocks when the World Cup is in Lake Louise [Nov. 26]."
Guay said he took a different approach to getting ready for this season after two draining campaigns.
"I've been battling back problems the last five years and didn't see my career lasting. ... I got together with a group in Montreal [B2ten] who 'peeled back the layers' to find out what caused the back problem in the first place.
"They did the same thing with [freestyle ski star] Jenn Heil. So far, I've seen tremendous progress and the back feels a lot better. But I didn't ski as much. I took two camps off. ... I definitely have to make up for the fact I didn't ski as much. I'm 15 pounds lighter [from not being in the gym everyday] and there won't be as much power in the legs and in the body."
Kucera has medical clearance to resume World Cup ski racing after he crashed at speeds of around 100 kilometres an hour at the 2009 Lake Louise race, breaking his tibia and fibula, then reinjured his leg as a forerunner in Aspen, Colo. He's held together by a titanium rod – and a lot of willpower. The 27-year-old from Calgary is determined to come back.
His goal is to begin with top-30 finishes, and eventually to break into the top 10, where he was in the risk-taker's sport before the injury.
"If I can show that kind of growth in the season that would give me a lot of confidence and a great starting point for the next season. The mental side of things will just take some time to come around. In the gym I can see the legs getting better. The mental side, it's getting into unsure situations – the jumps, flying rolls, rough courses, having the mental strength there to put myself on the edge."
Kucera has registered three World Cup podium finishes, all in Super-G. He won in 2006 at Lake Louise and was third in Italy that year before finishing second two years later at a race in Alberta. Kucera captured the downhill title at the 2009 world championships at Val d'Isère, France.