Facing fear part of challenge as skier Jan Hudec returns from knee injury

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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Downhill skier Jan Hudec uttered the F-word Thursday.
Among some World Cup ski racers "fear" is a dirty word, not often mentioned. But Hudec acknowledged fear is something he must deal with as he battles back from his fifth knee operation in hopes of earning a spot on the Canadian alpine team that will compete in February's Winter Olympics.
"The guys who say they are not ever scared, they are either lying or are completely insane," Hudec said in a telephone interview after finishing 11th in a Nor-Am downhill race at Lake Louise, Alta. "For me, I don't know if it's just from all the injuries or just because I'm a dad now (but) I have a petty high sense of self preservation.
"For me it's tough to get past that fear stage that keeps you alive and to really fight for it. At the same time it's fear that keeps you alive and keeps you sane and skiing smart, not just going out there and going crazy."
Crazy is a word some people might use to describe the 28-year-old Calgary resident. Who in their right mind would be back hurdling down an icy course at speeds of over 100 kilometres an hour just 10 months after shredding their left knee? Who would even want to after ripping up your other knee four times in the last six years?
Hudec, maybe more than most, knows what it takes to come back in a sport where a slight mistake, a momentary lapse of concentration, can have painful consequences.
John Kucera, one of Canada's best hopes for a skiing medal at the 2010 Games, suffered a broken leg in the opening super-giant slalom race of the season and will miss the Olympics.
Hudec returned from injury to win a downhill silver medal at the 2007 world championships. Last January he finished eighth in a downhill at Wengen, Switzerland, in his first World Cup start in over a year following knee surgery.
He believes he can achieve the other World Cup top-12 finish he needs to earn himself a place on Canada's Olympic roster.
"It will be tough but it's definitely doable," said Hudec, the only Canadian man to win a World Cup downhill at Lake Louse. "I feel good enough to ski well enough to do that. It's just a matter of having weather and conditions and everything working together and skiing confidently."
To reach that level of confidence Hudec must confront the fear that sometimes tugs at his skis, costing him a fraction of a second here, maybe taking a turn a little wide there.
"The fear thing is something everyone deals with and everyone has," said Hudec, who is the father of a three-year-old son. "The most important thing is with (each) run you change the line where you start feeling the fear.
"Sooner or later everyone feels fear. The trick is being able to push it to the limit as far you can before feeling it. That's what I've been doing here. That's what you get with all the training, putting the miles on your skis. In just the last two weeks I have raised the bar a lot for myself."
Hudec finished 35th in the first World Cup downhill race of the season last month at Lake Louise, then was 29th in a super-G. He made the decision to skip the next World Cup stop in Beaver Creek, Colo., believing he would be better served racing Nor-Am, a series one step below the World Cup.
It's a bit like a major league baseball pitcher coming off injury throwing a few games in triple-A, or an NHL player spending some time in the AHL for conditioning.
"For the most part it was getting comfortable with skiing and racing again and getting comfortable with the speed," said Hudec. Physically I felt really good, so I did race the first World Cup. I knew the hill, so I was pretty comfortable.
"Beaver Creek isn't really one of those places where you go test your mental capacity. When you go there, you have to be ready for everything."
Hudec will leave Saturday for Europe. He plans to race next weekend in a downhill and super-G at Val Gardena, Italy. The next downhill will be at Bormio, Italy, a hill where he finished third in 2007.
"I'm not getting frustrated by any means," he said. "I'm just taking it day by day. I know I can go to Europe and put down some good times.
"It's a funny sport where it can change from day to day. I'm pretty comfortable where I am now."

Organizations: NHL

Geographic location: Lake Louise, Canada, Calgary Switzerland Beaver Creek Lake Louse Europe Italy

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