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Canadian Jan Hudec overcomes injury and wins bronze medal

Canadian Jan Hudec overcomes injury and wins bronze medal

Posted by Juan Gavasa on February 17, 2014

Sailing enthusiasts around the world still race the small class of boat that Jan Hudec’s parents used to flee their homeland, floating across the top of the Adriatic Sea with a 10-month-old future Olympian on board. The boat was, and is, known as a Fireball.

Calling it a boat makes it seem grander than it really is; it’s a two-person dinghy designed to ride low in the water. They are made from fibreglass now, but when Jan Sr. and his wife, Vladi, ordered the kit more than 30 years ago — they had to build it themselves — it was made of wood. Leaving would be a risk, but so was staying in Czechoslovakia.

So they ordered it, and Jan Sr. built it, in secret, at his mother’s house. Husband and wife practised on a lake, just to get comfortable. They planned their escape from communism during a vacation in Yugoslavia, where they were allowed to travel.

Two days from the end of their trip, they shoved off, their baby, Jan, in tow. In a story he has been told his whole life, Jan’s mother had to bail water as they crossed to freedom, in Italy. They barely made it to the beach, but they made it. And, eventually, they made it to Canada, the name of which crossed the jacket Jan Hudec was wearing Sunday, as he retold the story inside the Canadian Olympic Committee’s temporary office in Russia.

 

That story, he said, ld him to where he was sitting, and not just literally. Hudec has been struggling with injury for a decade, with seven knee surgeries and a wonky back that left him bedridden in January. He was in pain again last week — and was in pain again as he spoke, sitting on a couch — but he was also an Olympic medal winner.

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