John Kucera is no stranger to high performance sport. A former Canadian Cowboy, he accumulated three World Cup podiums (including a gold), a World Championship gold, and kicked out of 124 World Cup starts.
After competing in Torino in 2006 as an athlete, John is tackling a completely new challenge at these Games: coaching the next generation of Canadian speed athletes to greatness.
“They’re difficult in different ways,” John says of the shift from athlete to coach. “As an athlete you approach everything from a personal perspective and it’s all about you. You have to work hard, deal with challenges, push out of your comfort zones – none of it is easy. But as a coach you have to take a broader look and support many different people and make sure your program supports their goals and achieve their dreams.”
And the Olympics are the biggest dream for many athletes, some since before they knew what sport they would compete in. There is no bigger competition, no greater media exposure or interest on athletes than at the Winter Olympic Games.
However, whether coach or athlete, the goal is always the same: push for top performance and results. John sees in this young group the drive and potential that his Cowboys were recognized for, in addition to something a little different and special.
“These guys, unlike the Cowboys who were a bunch of guys who came from all over Canada and bonded over that, these guys grew up together. They’re almost like a band of brothers, and it’s a different feel in that regard. Everyone is in it to help everyone else, it’s a collective working towards a common goal in an individual sport; that is probably the most unique thing about our group.”
The young speed team at Beijing consists of Brodie Seger, Broderick Thompson, and Jack Crawford. Brodie and Broderick, both hailing from British Columbia, grew up racing the same circuits and clubs, climbing up the standings and through the ranks together. Jack, coming from Ontario, raced through Georgian Peaks Ski Club before transitioning to Whistler for his last year of K2. The experience went so well, his family agreed to let him continue to ski out of the Whistler Ski Club, adding him to the tight knit crew.
John has mentored many of the young men on the Canadian Alpine Ski Team since their junior days, but after coming on to the coaching staff in 2015 he has concentrated on preparing the team for these Games.
“We’re coming in from a place where the guys are performing at a high level. We’re shooting for top performances here,” he elaborates. “For us, the goal is to walk away with a podium performance; we want to see someone on the box. Broderick has already proven that in a World Cup [in Beaver Creek], Jack and Brodie have been really close in a World Cup and World Championships. We feel like this group is knocking on the door and they have every ability to pull that off, so that’s the goal coming in, one of those top results.”
What helps is that hitting the hill every day has never felt like a job for John. Not as an athlete, and not as a coach either. The athletes are not the only ones who have created a strong bond together; the staff on the men’s speed side feel the same way. “Everyone gets along, we’re friends, we spend time together; you never feel like you’re coming to work when you come in with this group, you just feel like you’re going to go hang out with a bunch of like-minded individuals. Everyone’s on the same page and it’s a lot of fun.”
After a four-year build up, the great crescendo will come as the Games kick off February 4, 2022. The first men’s speed event will take place February 6 with Broderick, Jack and Brodie all taking on the downhill. But just as a ski racer can never focus solely on a single gate, John’s plan for the team goes far beyond these Games.
“Post-Beijing, we are going to continue to develop and build consistency and put [the team] in a place to be constant threats day in and day out,” says John. “It starts with first breaking into the top 30 to have the start numbers to be able to do that, someone like Jack has already put himself in a really good position there in the two disciplines, now we want to get the other guys there as well. Once they’re there it’s just about taking those opportunities and converting them. The goal is to become a top group in speed.”
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About Alpine Canada
Alpine Canada is the governing body for alpine, para-alpine, and ski cross racing in Canada, as well as for Canadian ski coaches, providing education, certification, insurance, and compliance with the coaching code of conduct. With the support of valued corporate partners and donors, along with the Government of Canada, Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee, and the Coaching Association of Canada, Alpine Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic, World Championship, and World Cup athletes to stimulate visibility, inspiration, and growth in the ski community. In 2020/21, Alpine Canada celebrated 100 years of rich tradition in competitive skiing in Canada.