Olympic underdog Jan Hudec questions why Alpine Canada left him off ski team

Canadian Olympic medallist Jan Hudec was one of the most successful athletes cut from Team Canada’s ski team last week.

Within the last two years, the 34-year-old went from earning Canada’s first Olympic medal in men’s alpine skiing in two decades to being cut from the team.

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    Alpine Canada stated he did not meet their standards to be named to the roster and refused to show proof of progress during his rehabilitation after his eighth surgery and being sidelined most of last season.

    The organization emailed the following statement to Global News about the decision:

    “Jan Hudec failed to meet the set out standards to be named to the team. Under coach’s discretion, Jan was selected to the team, subject to further physical, health and World Cup performance parameters laid out by Alpine Canada Alpin to ensure his health, performance and ACA resources were allocated effectively.  Jan declined to agree nor adhere to the set out requirements, therefore declining his spot on the Canadian Alpine Ski Team at this time.”

    Former Alpine Canada CEO Max Gartner, who’s now Hudec’s advisor, disagrees with the organization’s version of events and said it came down to how it decided to delegate its budget and that Hudec was asked to pay more than any other athlete.

    “Jan agreed to all the physical requirements and the rehab and all those things. It’s just the price tag for him to be able to race for this year was just way to high,” Gartner said. “Initially, Alpine Canada wanted $70,000 from him. They did cut it down to $35,000.

    “But for an Olympic athlete who just won a medal two years ago, to be charged more than any other athlete ever in the program, I didn’t understand that position.”

    According to Alpine Canada, their men’s speed program costs roughly $250,000 per athlete a year. What the skier pays out of their own pocket varies, especially in Hudec’s case, since he was initially named to the team under “coaches discretion,” a clause in the selection criteria. But his selection was subject to Hudec proving progress in his rehabilitation under Alpine Canada testing and monitoring.

    “Before any money was going to be spent, there was going to be these tests and Jan agreed to those. Then after that, when he was fit, to participate in the training camps in Chile and prior to Lake Louise, Alpine Canada had to support that,” Gartner said.

    Gartner said the agreed timeline of physical tests changed and Hudec could not pay the requested amount from Alpine Canada.

    “From an organizational stand point, you’re always under pressure from sponsors, investors, people that contribute to the sport to be putting up results. Unfortunately, a lot of decisions are based on metrics and science from guys sitting in suits behind desks,” Hudec said.

    Gartner said Hudec has never been your cookie-cutter downhill skier but has always put up results under pressure over the years.

    “Three weeks out of the Olympics, he was flat on his back and couldn’t move and he got there – and won a medal. So Jan is one of those people that has a special gift,” Gartner said.

    Despite an injury riddled career, the Calgarian has seven international podium finishes; including an Olympic bronze medal in Sochi 2014, a World Championship silver and five World Cup medals.

    “I think I’m the dark horse, the underdog,” Hudec said.

    Current CEO of Alpine Canada Mark Rubinstein said they considered several things when deciding to leave an athlete like Hudec off their team at this time.

    “Factors include injuries, factors include how many years has an athlete been off skis. factors include age, even though that by itself isn’t determinate, without question, as we get older it’s harder to bounce back,” Rubinstein said.

    Hudec thinks he still has what it takes to compete at a high level or at least expected the support from Alpine Canada to train this summer and go from there, after the record he’s had in past seasons.

    “It puts unhealthy pressure on athletes, especially athletes that have performed in the past. It’s not like I’ve been flat-lining my whole career,” Hudec said.

    “We didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give him the support to attend the training camps over the summer time, with the full support of Alpine Canada (financially). By the time Lake Louise comes around, it would be pretty clear whether he could compete,” Gartner said.

    Hudec also feels that his age should only speak to his experience in the sport.

    “In Super G and downhill, age is actually on your side,” Hudec said. “A lot of the top athletes that retired were in their mid to late 30s.

    “The young guys are important to push us but we’re also important for the young guys to give them leadership and give them something to strive to so they know where they can be very easily if we just stick together and work as a team.”

    In the meantime, Hudec plans to do what he does best: find a way to win another medal, if he’s still got it.

    “I want to go out with a bang and have some great results. If I don’t feel like I’m physically fit to do that, I’m not going to put myself in that position.”

    With a tight budget compared to competing countries like Austria that has had more than triple the amount of athletes on its Alpine roster, Alpine Canada stands by its selection but said it will keep the door open to Hudec for further discussion.

    Gartner, who worked for Alpine Canada for more than 25 years, said the organization needs to support its athletes through the ups and downs.

    “Because none of their careers go straight up in a line. There’s always challenges, especially in alpine skiing,” Gartner said. “You get injured and sometimes your equipment doesn’t work that well. Without that support, you lose those athletes way too early and some of them could be champions.”

    With files from the Canadian Press

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