Jan Hudec claimed Canada’s first alpine World Cup podium of the season Friday when a storming super-G run earned the speed team veteran a second-place finish in Val Gardena-Groeden, Italy.

The 32-year-old from Calgary, Alta., attacked the classic Saslong course – a happy hunting ground for Canadians since the days of the Crazy Canucks – to give the Cowboys a superb start to what could be a big weekend and prove they’re building momentum at the right time with less than 50 days to go until the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games.

Hudec, who has battled back from a series of devastating injuries and this summer juggled training with launching an optometry business, showed once again that he can never be counted out on race day as the man known as ‘Panda’ set the early pace from bib 12 and was only prevented from claiming a famous victory by a scintillating run from Norwegian superstar Aksel Lund Svindal, who took the win.

Hudec’s second-place finish is his fifth-career World Cup podium and his first since February 2012, when he was second in the super-G in Crans Montana, Switzerland. Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Que. – who alongside Svindal was the fastest man in downhill training this week – also had a strong run and was sixth Friday, while Manuel Osborne-Paradis, of Vancouver, B.C., skied out as fog descended on the top part of the course. All three are serious contenders in Saturday’s downhill.

“This is just huge,” said Hudec, who clocked a time of one minute, 36.40 seconds. “It’s confirmation that I’ve been doing the right things and just going with it and being patient. I knew my time in the sport wasn’t up and I wouldn’t have carried on skiing if I didn’t believe I could do this.

“I feel pretty blessed that I got to be the first guy on the podium this year but it’s just a matter of time before Erik and Manny (Osborne-Paradis) are there, too. We have a great history here and there’s no reason we can’t do something special in the downhill tomorrow.”

Hudec’s second-place finish is the fifth podium by a Canadian man in Val Gardena since 2008 – Osborne-Paradis and Guay each have two – and the 15th in total since Crazy Canuck Ken Read was third in the downhill in 1978. Hudec added to Canada’s history in the Dolomites on the back of a near flawless run on a challenging course set.

“It was almost perfect,” Hudec said. “I started a little safer at the top so I could carry my speed at the bottom and then made one mistake in the middle section at the camel jumps.”

Svindal, who won the opening super-G of the season in Lake Louise, Alta., was always going to be the man to beat and so it proved as he knocked over half a second off Hudec’s time to cross the line in 1:35.82. France’s Adrien Theaux was third (1:36.73).

Svindal, winner of three straight super-G races in Val Gardena, leads the overall World Cup standings with 460 points. Austria’s Marcel Hirscher is second (335) and the USA’s Ted Ligety is third (269). Hudec is the top Canadian in 10th (171). Svindal also leads the downhill and super-G rankings, while Hudec sits third in super-G after finishing 10th and 13th in the opening races of the year in Lake Louise and Beaver Creek, USA. Osborne-Paradis, Guay and Hudec are 10th, 12th and 13th, respectively, in the downhill standings.

“I skied the same today as I did in super-G in Lake Louise and Beaver Creek,” Hudec said of Friday’s run. “The only difference was that in Lake Louise I made one huge mistake in the middle and in Beaver Creek I made a couple of small mistakes. I knew if I stayed patient and kept with it I could do it.”

Photo of Jan Hudec in Val Gardena by Pentaphoto, courtesy of Alpine Canada.


SnowOnline Editor: Lori Knowles