KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — About a month ago, Canadian downhiller Jan Hudec jumped into the air during a simple training drill and landed in tremendous pain.
There went a disk in his lower back. There went the Sochi Olympics, he thought at the time, maybe his season and perhaps even his career. The bulging disk was that painful.
Day by day, though, the pain has lessened. He was on the mountain Wednesday, taking some easy runs on a hill adjacent to the downhill track.
His said his back felt good — really good, in fact. It took plenty of physical therapy to get it to this point — and some nerve blockers.
"This is progressing faster than I could've imagined," he said.
The 32-year-old Hudec is a strong medal contender, particularly in the super-G where he's currently seventh in the World Cup standings. At least, he was a favorite before his back suddenly flared up when he mistimed a jump in a workout session, pitching his upper body forward.
"I've hurt my back before, but it was much more violent this time," he said. "For three days I basically couldn't walk on my own."
Hudec isn't the only Canadian skier dealing with an injury. Erik Guay, who won a World cup race in December, recently skipped a competition to rest an aching knee.
The charismatic Hudec was certainly in a jovial mood on Wednesday, showing off a special helmet decal he had made just for Sochi — a picture of a panda wearing a menacing eye patch. It's a nod to his nickname, Panda, a moniker which started about four years ago. Hudec explained in his team biography: "I'm a little round and furry like a panda, and seem slow and nice, but when it's time to fight — it's on. I bring my game."