John Kucera Makes Canadian History in Downhill Skiing

Associated Press
Sunday, February 8, 2009

Canada's goal to win the most medals at the Vancouver Olympics in one year got a big boost yesterday: John Kucera became the first Canadian man to win the downhill at a world championship.

Kucera skied flawlessly in Val d'Isere, France, and then watched one top skier after another fail to match him, either because of the fog or because he was too fast.

"It was the race of my life," Kucera said.

He finished in 2 minutes 7.01 seconds. Didier Cuche of Switzerland, who won the super-G Wednesday, was 0.04 behind, and Carlo Janka of Switzerland was third, 0.17 back.

Bode Miller, winless this season in World Cup competition, was slowed by fog and finished eighth.

"It's always a little tough when the weather plays a deciding factor, but it's also ski racing," Miller said. "It's not the first time it has happened and I'm sure it won't be the last. You do need some luck."

Kucera set himself apart from Canadian men on the Bellevarde course. Teammate Jan Hudec took the silver in the downhill at the last worlds in Are, Sweden, two years ago. Steve Podborski finished third in downhill at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, which doubled as worlds.

Along with Ken Read, Dave Irwin and Dave Murray, Podborski was a member of the Crazy Canucks, the generation that put Canada on the skiing map in the 1970s and '80s.

When Read won in Val d'Isere in 1975, he became the first non-European man to win a World Cup downhill.

"The Crazy Canucks were the first guys to put Canada in the spotlight," Kucera said. "We're the Canadian Cowboys and hopefully we can raise the bar for the new generation."

Kucera, whose parents emigrated from the Czech Republic, was born and raised in Calgary. He grew up skiing on the slopes used for the 1988 Olympics.

"The runs there are pretty steep without many flats, so maybe that helped me here," he said.

Kucera also acknowledged what this will mean for Vancouver.

"The biggest thing to come out of this is knowing we have the ability to put it together on the biggest stage after the Olympics," he said. "That's a huge boost of confidence."

· FIGURE SKATING: Canadian teenager Patrick Chan captured a gold medal in the ISU Four Continents championships in Vancouver.

Skating to music by Rachmaninov, the 18-year-old Chan scored a season's best 160.29 points for his free program -- despite singling a planned triple axel -- to earn a standing ovation and the gold with an overall score of 249.19.

American Evan Lysacek won the silver with 237.15, scoring 155.50 for his program that opened with a quad jump.

Japan's Takahiko Kozuka took the bronze with 221.76, scoring 145.15 in his free program.

Jeremy Abbott, who won the U.S. title last month, was sixth.

The victory is another huge result for Chan, a two-time Canadian champion who was thrust into the international spotlight when Canadian world champion Jeffrey Buttle retired in the fall. Chan has earned himself a spot as a favorite heading into next month's world championships in Los Angeles.

· NORDIC COMBINED: Mario Stecher led a 1-2 Austrian finish at a World Cup event in Seefeld, Austria.

American Bill Demong is in fourth in the overall standings.

· SNOWBOARDING: Kelly Clark led a U.S. sweep of the World Cup halfpipe events in Bardonecchia, Italy. Hannah Teiter was second, followed by Gretchen Bleiler.

Mathieu Crepel of France won the men's event.

· HOCKEY: A 2-1 victory over Austria in a qualifying tournament gave Germany a berth in the 2010 Olympics.

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