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Canadian downhill world champ John Kucera now at the helm of former team

The first Canadian man to acquire 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.

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“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.         

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, presently 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 International Tennis Federation also announced its year-end awards Thursday, with year-end No. 1s Nadal and Ash Barty named ITF World Champions.

It’s Nadal’s fourth selection, Barty’s first.

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