John Kucera was named head coach of the Canadian men’s downhill squad, in a Dec. 19, 2019 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

John Kucera was named head coach of the Canadian men’s downhill squad, in a Dec. 19, 2019 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian world downhill ski champion John Kucera at the helm of former team

The first Canadian man to win a world championship in downhill skiing is now the head coach of his former team.

John Kucera oversees a disparate Canadian men’s downhill squad that includes both former teammates and a batch of young prospects.

The 35-year-old from Calgary captured the 2009 world downhill crown in Val-d’Isere, France, two years before teammate Erik Guay did it in Garmisch, Germany.

Kucera was also the first Canadian to win a World Cup race in Lake Louise, Alta., where he was the fastest in a super giant slalom in 2006.

Similar to NHL players coached by a Stanley Cup winner, Kucera’s success as an athlete gives him some clout with his skier.

“It definitely helps me in certain situations,” Kucera told The Canadian Press. “I think when I first came into coaching, I came in with no coaching experience, but I came in with this background as a successful athlete.

“It’s not so much what I did as an individual, but I have a good understanding of what it takes to get there. Having some success as an athlete definitely helps you in that regard because people respect the fact you did pull it off.”

He uses his athlete experience judiciously as a coach, however.

“It’s something you have to be really careful with because you need to know your athletes really well,” Kucera said. “If I try to say ‘well, this is how I did it and we’re all going to do it this way and we’re all going to be good’, I don’t think that really applies.

“Do I use some of it? Yeah, absolutely. Is it the way I run my team or how I coach? Not at all.”

After five seasons coaching Canada’s developmental racers, Kucera took over this season from Austria’s Burkhard Schaffer, who was among a string of Europeans in charge of the downhillers in recent years.

Kucera’s group ranges from 35-year-old former teammate Manuel Osborne-Paradis, currently sidelined rehabilitating a knee injury, to under-23 racers Brodie Seger, Jeff Read, James Crawford, Sam Mulligan and Cameron Alexander.

In the middle are 27-year-old Ben Thomsen and 30-year-old super-G specialist Dustin Cook.

“In a way, it’s a split group,” Kucera said. “Ben and Dustin and Manny when he comes back, these veteran guys, they’ve done it and performed at the highest level and proved they can be there.

“The expectation for those guys is to continue being high-level racers and be the front of the spear for this group, kind of carry the load for those young guys.”

The international success of Guay and Jan Hudec after the turn of the century blazed a trail for Kucera and Osborne-Paradis to join them.

They were dubbed the Canadian Cowboys, a twist on the Crazy Canucks team of Steve Podborski, Ken Read and Dave Irwin of the 1980s.

“This young group kind of reminds me when Manny and myself first rolled in and were lucky enough to have Eric there and Jan,” Kucera said.

“Those guys were already carrying the load and kind of gave us a little bit of shelter to find our way and get going.”

Kucera was among Canada’s medal hopefuls for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

He broke his leg racing a super-G in Lake Louise just weeks before the opening ceremonies.

Kucera’s injury was followed by a case of vestibular neuritis — an inner ear condition causing dizziness and nausea — that sidelined him four of the next five seasons.

Kucera retired in 2014. He immediately began coaching prospects such as Crawford, who has watched Kucera’s ascension to head coach.

“I think one of the most important things that’s kind of hard to get in a head coach is connections,” Crawford said.

“Having a coach with a lot of different connections and people they can turn to for help, so when we go over to Europe, if your head coach has a lot of friends, it’s easier to find training.

“Johnny being a World Cup skier and a liked World Cup skier makes it quite easy for him to talk with other coaches and be respected.”

Thomsen has known Kucera since he was a 14 years old.

“Me and Dustin we’ve been around it, we’ve done it for a long time, we kind of know what we’re doing and it’s good that he lets us figure that out,” Thomsen said.

“It’s really nice when you do video and you’re doing coaching feedback when you tell him ‘this is what I’m feeling.’ It’s a lot more give and take instead of the coach just saying ‘I don’t care what you’re feeling. Do that.’”

North Vancouver’s Seger was Canada’s top performer in the first two World Cup tops of the season.

He posted a pair of top-20 results in Lake Louise and Beaver Creek, Colo..

The Canadian team is in Italy for Friday’s super-G and Saturday’s downhill in Val-Gardena. The group remains on the road the rest of the World Cup campaign, which ends in March in Cortina, Italy.

Kucera’s wife Lauren is Alpine Canada’s manager of team operations for ski cross. The couple have an 18-month-old daughter.

“For myself as an athlete and then straight into coaching, basically I’ve had the same travel schedule for 15 or 20 years,” Kucera said.

“Incredibly proud of my wife, working at ACA and having to take care of the little one, our dog and our cats and everything else.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2019.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Artists of all genres are encouraged to apply for a variety of awards and scholarships available through the Red Deer Arts Council. This mixed-media work, Shadow Man by Paul Boultbee, has shown at the Kiwanis Gallery, operated by the council. (Contributed image).
Red Deer-area artists can apply for various awards, scholarships by March 1

The Red Deer Arts Council seeks to encourage artistic development

People lineup at a hotel for the homeless before the 8 p.m. COVID-19 curfew on Jan. 11, 2021, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Legault nixes call for COVID-19 curfew exemption, saying it could used to avoid fines

Legault nixes call for COVID-19 curfew exemption, saying it could used to avoid fines

The body of 25-year-old Kyler Corriveau was discovered near Red Deer on Sunday. He was missing since Dec. 15. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contrinuted photo).
RCMP are investigating the death of missing Red Deer man as a homicide

The body of Kyler Corriveau was discovered on Sunday

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 456 new cases of COVID-19 over Tuesday afternoon. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Community Futures Central Alberta, in partnership with the Central Alberta Regional Innovation Network (CARIN), is behind the SMARTstart initiative for budding entrepreneurs.
New program aimed at helping entrepreneurs succeed

Program offers mentorship, business advice and networking opportunities

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

Winnipeg Jets left wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) scores the game-winning goal past Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) during overtime in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ehlers scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets rally for 4-3 win over Ottawa Senators

Ehlers scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets rally for 4-3 win over Ottawa Senators

Canadian women's soccer team member Rhian Wilkinson is seen during a training session in Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, April 21, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Former Canada Soccer coach Rhian Wilkinson joins England women’s coaching staff

Former Canada Soccer coach Rhian Wilkinson joins England women’s coaching staff

Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Premier League-Darren Goldstein **MANDATORY CREDIT**
CPL targets season kickoff on Victoria Day Weekend, providing authorities agree

CPL targets season kickoff on Victoria Day Weekend, providing authorities agree

United States forward Brianna Decker (14) and Canada forward Marie-Philip Poulin battle for the puck during first period of 2018 Four Nations Cup gold medal game in Saskatoon on November 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
Together at last, Canadian women’s hockey team reunites after pandemic separation

Together at last, Canadian women’s hockey team reunites after pandemic separation

Soldiers parade from Parliament Hill as they take part in the National Day of Honour in Ottawa on Friday, May 9, 2014. Canada’s veterans ombudsman is calling on the federal government reverse to restrictions on the provision of mental-health services for the families of retired military personnel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ombudsman slams new restrictions on mental-health support for veterans’ families

Ombudsman slams new restrictions on mental-health support for veterans’ families

FILE - John Mulaney arrives at night one of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles. A file obtained by The Associated Press shows the U.S. Secret Service investigated John Mulaney, but found no wrongdoing in a joke the comedian made on “Saturday Night Live” in February 2020. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
File details investigation into John Mulaney ‘SNL’ monologue

File details investigation into John Mulaney ‘SNL’ monologue

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, file photo, Tom Hanks arrives at the People's Choice Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Hanks will host a 90-minute primetime TV special celebrating the inauguration of Joe Biden as president of the United States. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
From Gaga to Garth, Miranda to Moreno: Celebs join inaugural

Like so much this past year, the inaugural celebration will be like… Continue reading

A Honduran migrant poses for a photo at a road block manned by Guatemalan soldiers and police, on the highway in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Some migrants threw rocks while authorities launched tear gas and pushed the migrants with their riot shields back down the highway. (AP Photo/Sandra Sebastian)
Large migrant caravan dissolves in Guatemala

Large migrant caravan dissolves in Guatemala

Most Read