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Canadian skier Jan Hudec says Olympic medal mirrors the way he lives his life

11/26/2014 10:07 EST | Updated 01/26/2015 05:59 EST
LAKE LOUISE, Alta. - Jan Hudec's Olympic ski medal is dented and scratched, just like its owner.

"It's beat up and it's shown that it's been around the block a few times," he said this week in Calgary. "It's kind of like me. The more scars it has, the more stories it has to tell."

The super-G bronze medal Hudec won Feb. 16 in Sochi, Russia, was Canada's first Olympic alpine ski medal in two decades. The Calgary racer tied for third with U.S. veteran Bode Miller.

Racing with knee bones grinding together and a cranky back, Hudec was a feel-good story of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

The medal has been dropped a couple of times — once under Hudec's car — and it also flew with its owner off a motorcycle in Switzerland this summer.

"I just figured it's laugh lines on a face, laugh lines on a medal," he said in an interview this week. "Now that I'm not injured and still standing here, I can tell you I crashed a motorbike and the medal was on the motorbike when I crashed it.

"It was on a Ducati in Switzerland and the medal was right on the tank when I crashed. I picked the bike up, like I do with my life so many times, and put all the broken pieces in my backpack and continued driving."

After seven knee surgeries — six on the right and one on the left — going under the knife is routine for Hudec. He had fun tweeting gruesome photos of a blood-filled bulge over his lower back prior to surgery last spring.

"The alien is gone. It was a boy," quipped Hudec.

The 33-year-old skier is accustomed to people asking him if he'll retire and give his beatn-up body a rest.

But Hudec is doing what he always does at this time of year — preparing for the season-opening World Cup downhill races at Lake Louise, Alta.

The first of three training runs are scheduled for Wednesday at the Alberta ski resort west of Calgary. The downhill is Saturday and the super-G is Sunday.

Hudec earned the first of his five World Cup medals at Lake Louise in 2007 when he won the men's downhill.

"For me, when you're beat up, your target priority is what is right in front of your face," Hudec said. "For me, it's going to start with Lake Louise. I need to start off on the right foot in Lake Louise and really set the pace for what I want to do this year."

Hudec is relatively healthy to start a ski racing season. A minor shoulder injury in the motorcycle incident hampered his dryland training this fall, but he says he had an excellent summer ski camp in Zermatt, Switzerland.

Hudec's parents fled what was then Czechoslovakia in 1982 when he was a baby. The family eventually made their way to Alberta in 1986 and Hudec grew up ski racing in the Banff area.

Nicknamed "Panda" for the animated character Po in "Kung Fu Panda," Hudec likes playing the drums and loves riding motorcycles. He lives an eventful life away from skiing.

He opened an optometry business at a posh downtown Calgary location two before the 2014 Winter Olympics, but sold it and also put his Calgary home up for sale this year.

Hudec's girlfriend in the Czech Republic, Jarka Svejstilova, is about to give birth to their baby "any day now," Hudec says. He also has an eight-year-old son Oaklee.

"I lead a pretty hectic and crazy life," Hudec said. "Obviously my career is probably winding down over the next three or four years. I'd like my next three or four years to be my best ones."

Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Vancouver was the last Canadian man to claim a World Cup medal in Lake Louise when he won the super-G in 2009. Osborne-Paradis and Hudec are the host country's strongest contenders for a return to the podium this weekend.

Former world downhill champion Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., won't race in Lake Louise. He delayed the start of his racing season to recover from a pair of off-season knee surgeries.

Hudec was 10th in last year's super-G at Lake Louise and rapped his knuckles on his helmet in frustration in the finish chute. He felt he had the tools that day to finish in the medals in his home race.

"That's where I need to be again," he said. "Skiing is one of those sports where you can be on top of the world one day and have all the confidence in the world and literally be at the bottom the next day trying to figure out where your confidence is. It's a daily battle and kind of the mental struggle that alpine athletes have to face."

Lake Louise being his first race in Canada since the Olympics, Hudec expects his medal will gain many fingerprints in the coming days.

"The biggest pleasure has been showing it to people and seeing the reaction on people's faces as they see it and feel it and people getting emotional just touching an Olympic medal," he said. "It should be out in the open. It should be seen. It should be readily available for people to touch and experience and not be kept in a box somewhere."

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