ROSA KHUTOR, LONDON (Reuters) - Jan Hudec had just won Canada’s first Olympic Alpine skiing medal for 20 years but his first priority was making sure someone dug up his lucky loonie.
It is a tradition in Canada’s ski team to bury a dollar coin, known as a loonie, on the finish line for good luck so after claiming a bronze medal in the super-G it was no wonder the injury-plagued 32-year-old wanted it back.
“After the second warm-up yesterday I almost forgot and I went to the finish line and buried a loonie,” Hudec told reporters after winning Canada’s first Olympic Alpine skiing medal since Ed Podivinsky’s downhill bronze in 1994.
“I thought it would either be good luck or in the worst case scenario and it’s not good luck it would be worth more than a dollar in the morning,” he added.
“Our president is up there digging for it now. Doing the donkey work. Maybe I should join him,” Hudec said as he gave meticulous directions over the team radio.
Minutes later Hudec, flexing his sore back, was re-united with the coin, holding it aloft for an impromptu photo session.
“I’ll have to frame that, or maybe sell it on Ebay or something, I don’t know. I’ll keep it and it’ll end up in one of my mum’s tubs somewhere,” he joked.
Hudec’s journey to the Olympic podium has been circuitous.
His parents fled Czechoslovakia when he was a toddler, travelling in a small boat via the former Yugoslavia to Italy and on to West Germany before setting in Canada.
Injuries have ravaged his ski career and before Sunday a silver medal at the 2007 world championships in Sweden and a few noteworthy World Cup wins had been the highlights.
Three years ago he reached rock bottom when Canada cut him from their team and he was forced to fund his own training fees to the tune of $15,000.
That’s why there was so much goodwill flowing his way on Sunday, not least from team mate Manuel Osborne-Paradis.
”11 out of 10,“ he said when asked how pleased he was for Hudec. ”I‘m pissed about my race but his medal it’s trumping how mad I am. I was already jumping up and down in the start gate because of his result.
”It’s so cool to see a Canadian on the podium. It’s nice that someone has done it on the right day at the right time.
“Oh man, it’s cool to see such a nice guy get a reward like this as it’s once in a lifetime.”
His sentiments were echoed by former Olympic downhill bronze medalist Steve Podborski, Chef de Mission for the Canada’s Olympic team in Sochi.
”He did a fantastic job today,“ he told Reuters. ”His back is really gimpy, he took a bunch of days off, he missed some races and his knees are a mess. Other than that he’s great.
“Super-G is like a lottery. You only get one shot and you have to be brilliant and today Jan was.”
Hudec, who tied for bronze with American Bode Miller after they set identical times, said he thought his hopes of a medal were over after finishing 21st in the downhill.
“The downhill beat me up pretty bad,” he said.
“It’s a miracle even to be here and to be able to perform at this level. But I knew it was today or never.”
Loonie safely tucked away in his ski-suit pocket, Hudec shuffled off through the slush heading for the ceremony to get his hands on a larger chunk of metal.
(Replaces Czech Republic with Czechoslovakia and Germany with West Germany in ninth paragraph)
Editing by Ed Osmond