The time is at hand. In the Canadian West they are praying for snow and alpine glory. The Olympics on the home hill are just around the corner.

Dark horses and Canadian cowboys are licking their chops at what might happen on the first day of competition. The men’s downhill is one of the most coveted prizes at any Olympics and in Whistler it could mean an early end to the drought that has seen Canada emerge from hosting two sets of Games without earning a gold medal.

“Depth means if the guy who is supposed to win doesn’t, then there’s someone else to back him up,” Ken Read said of the current men’s speed team. “It means you’re not relying on just one guy.”

Read knows.

As the leader of the Crazy Canucks, he was touted to win a medal — maybe gold — at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. That was until his binding popped off just out of the start gate. No matter, Steve Podborski, his younger teammate, came through with bronze and became a Canadian legend in the process.

This time, the Canadians will send a full complement of downhill demons to the start gate at Whistler. They have four spots in the elite field and the team that unabashedly refers to itself as the Canadian Cowboys has five guys who will scrap for a chance to be on the roster that could win on friendly snow.

The list is impressive.

Erik Guay of Mont Tremblant, Que., has scored 10 World Cup podium finishes. Calgary’s John Kucera is the current world champion. Manny Osborne-Paradis has won before and is physically suited to the course. Robbie Dixon grew up skiing at Whistler. He’s young, hungry and on the rise.

Which leaves Jan Hudec. A former world championship silver medallist and champion of the World Cup at Lake Louise, Hudec is coming off his sixth reconstructive knee surgery. He’s the dark horse, but completely undaunted

“It hurt,” Hudec admitted of his latest operation, which robbed him of the pre-Olympic season. “It hurt emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually, but if the pain gets me to the Olympics it will have been worth it.”

Revealing words — gutsy.

It all means dark horses and Canadian cowboys are in for a wild ride at Whistler come February.

– Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. He has covered professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.

Latest From ...