Editor’s note: During the Olympic Games, the Vail Daily is featuring some local Olympians and their favorite Olympic moments. If you have suggestions, send them to email@example.com.
VAIL — Sarah Schleper is a four-time Olympian and competed in 187 World Cup races. Yet, she says her favorite Olympic moment was helping someone else get to the podium.
During the 2006 games in Turin, Schleper was careening down the giant slalom course, having one the best runs of her storied career. She hit a hole and went over the front of her skis, with her Olympic hopes laying right there in the snow with her. Olympic teammate Julia Mancuso knew exactly how that felt and made her way down the course to help her.
Later that day, Mancuso won the gold medal in the event. She was pretty darn excited, but Schleper got her to stand still long enough to wrap her in her nation’s love.
“I was right there to drape the American flag around her. That was one of my favorite Olympic moments,” Schleper said.
Schleper competed in four Winter Olympics: 1998 in Nagano, Japan; 2002 in Salt Lake City; 2006 in Torino, Italy; and 2010 in Vancouver. But, you probably knew that. What you didn’t know is that her birthday was this week.
That means, of course, that for most of her young life, she celebrated her birthdays on the road, in airplanes and airports and in hotels, while competing on the World Cup circuit.
There was her Golden Birthday, 1998, which she celebrated at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, which was way better than an airport. How much better, Schleper isn’t divulging.
Schleper raced on the World Cup circuit from 1995 to 2011, reaching the podium four times and winning a World Cup slalom in Switzerland in 2005.
The U.S. Ski Team isn’t exactly overcome with sentiment and ceremony when it comes to naming Olympians.
“They post a list with our names on it,” Schleper explained. “I don’t remember anyone calling and saying congratulations. You pretty much know whether you qualified.”
In all four Olympics, she competed in both her specialties, slalom and giant slalom.
Hardest Working Mom on Snow
By 2008, she was married to Federico Gaxiola and a mother to son, Lasse. That made her the hardest working mom on snow. All that led to what is arguably one of the most tender moments in World Cup history.
Schleper announced her retirement shortly before competing in her final World Cup slalom, on Dec. 29, 2011, in Lienz, Austria. The International Skiing Federation has a tradition that a skier in her retirement race can wear anything she wants – or not.
Schleper was resplendent in a light blue helmet festooned with flowers over a thin brown summer dress, bare-armed and bare-legged.
“The dress was my husband’s idea. He didn’t think it was a good idea that I ski naked,” she joked.
She opened her 187th and final start the way she did her first – with a roar – what poet Walt Whitman would call a “barbaric yawp.”
She stopped halfway down the course to take her 4-year-old son from her husband and finished the rest of the course with the boy in her arms. The crowd went wild.
This past year was her first birthday at home. She went skiing. This year was her second, and she went skiing again. The day after her birthday this week when we caught up with her, she took a couple minutes out of her ski day to chat.
She says she, Federico and Lasse are “living happily every after.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.