Alpine Skiing

Chris Iorfida - Sunday Feb. 23, 2014 14:53 ET

Jan Hudec broke medal drought, but Canadian alpine team struggled

Team in transition, with several making their Olympic debut

Jan Hudec overcame physical pain to reach the Olympic podium.
Jan Hudec overcame physical pain to reach the Olympic podium. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
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Jan Hudec, in retrospect, may have been the most likely candidate at the Sochi Olympics to break Canada’s 20-year Olympic medal drought in alpine.

Certainly not statistically, as the Czech-born Calgarian has just a handful of World Cup podium results in his career. But he’s persevered time and again through seven knee surgeries and intense physiotherapy for a back injury in recent weeks that threatened his participation at Sochi.

Hudec, who finished in a bronze medal tie in the super-G with U.S. ski star Bode Miller, has been a team trailblazer before. He won silver in the downhill at the 2007 world championships, the first men’s medal in a generation at the event.

Because the 31-year-old Hudec broke the medal drought at Sochi, Canada’s performance at the most basic level will be judged a success.

Alpine Canada is undoubtedly happy with the bronze, but in other ways it was not as satisfying a team performance as the last two Games. It is forgotten, because there were no medals to display, that Canada had near misses at both events. There were seven top 10 results in Turin, and at total of 33 top 20 showings when you combined the totals from Italy and four years later at the Vancouver Olympics.

In Sochi, the Canadian team managed four top 10 results and just 11 finishes in the top 20.

The country's best modern skier, Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 10th in the downhill and couldn’t finish the super-G, while Marie-Michèle Gagnon finished just one of her four races. The Lac-Etchemin, Que., native had been a consistent top 10 presence on the women's World Cup circuit this season.

Erin Mielzynski, in her signature slalom event, couldn’t complete the course. The Guelph, Ont., native had a World Cup victory and a bronze to her credit heading into a season that has been marked by struggle and just plain bad luck.

There was reason to be hopeful about the future, however. Morgan Pridy of Whistler, B.C., was 10th in the super-G, Brittany Phelan of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., 15th in the slalom, and Toronto's Trevor Philp and Phil Brown had respectable showings in technical events at Sochi. 

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Tina Maze more closely resembled the skier that dominated in 2012-13 than the one whose confidence was shaky earlier this season. If there was any notion of an asterisk due to Maze's unprecedented downhill tie with the surprising Dominique Gisin of Switzerland, she did away with that in a giant slalom victory, setting the fastest time from the No. 1 starting position and never relinquishing the lead.

Maze won Slovenia’s first ever Winter Games gold medals after taking home two silver from the Vancouver Olympics. She became the first woman to achieve the downhill-giant slalom double at the Olympics since 1972.

Both Maze and two-time World Cup overall champ Maria Hoefl-Riesch announced that Sochi was their last Olympic experience. The German won gold in the super-combined and silver in the super-G, giving her three gold and one silver for her Olympic career.

On the men’s side, no one skier dominated but perhaps the biggest story was out of Norway. Ktejil Jansrud is known as a talented skier, but few would have predicted he would return home with gold and bronze (super-G, downhill) while his more heralded teammate Aksel Lund Svindal would end up without a podium result.

Fitting the pattern of recent Olympic years, Svindal and other top downhill contenders saw an underdog cross the line fastest. Austria’s Matthias Mayer had never won a World Cup race, with his only two career podium appearances coming in super-G.

Perhaps even more surprising was Sandro Viletta taking the super-combined. The Swiss skier has one World Cup win in a career that has spanned seven seasons.

Two-time overall World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher is still yet to win gold after two Olympic experiences, although he did take silver behind veteran compatriot Mario Matt in slalom.

The U.S. team appeared to be struggling after one week in Sochi, but began to turn it around at the midway point as Miller won his sixth career Olympic medal in the super-G. He shared the podium with teammate Andrew Weibrecht, who earned silver after doing little of note in the four years since he captured bronze in Vancouver in the same discipline.

The Americans would finish with five medals (2-1-2), second of all teams thanks to dominant wins at the end of the programme from Ted Ligety (giant slalom) and 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin (slalom).

Austria, with three gold, four silver, and two bronze, led all teams.

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