Carnes: No matter the medal count, Vail wins with local Olympians (column)
One of my first highlights living here in mid-’80s Happy Valley was witnessing Jean-Claude Killy in a head-to-head short GS race with Franz Klammer.
That same day, 24-year-old me fell in love with ski racing.
Two of the greatest winter Olympians to ever lock into bindings flew directly in front of me, both smiling as they easily navigated the American Ski Classic Celebrity course.
Each seriously wanted to win, but couldn’t help the fun they were having, especially knowing that Suzie Chapstick was waiting in the finish arena. Yeah, she was big deal at that time for some reason.
I had no idea, of course, that a few decades later my adopted hometown and birthplace for all three of my boys would become synonymous with providing winter athletes to represent the United States every four years in the Olympics.
Around the same time, I was lucky enough to actually meet the first American to ever win a World Cup downhill, Vail’s own Olympian and bronze medalist, Cindy Nelson. Over the years I became familiar with the mane and screams of Sarah Schleper (competing in her fifth Olympics), played golf with Chris del Bosco (racing ski cross for Canada) and performed on stage with Thomas Walsh (competing in the Paralympics later this month).
At the opening ceremony for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships my youngest had a one-on-one with Michaela Shiffrin inside a “security-cleared” Yeti’s Grind minutes before she went up on stage to introduce Bob Beattie. My youngest had won a slalom that day in Loveland, and she went out of her way to ask him details about his race. She was only 19 at the time, and it happened to be his 16th birthday. While he handled the moment without stepping on his tongue, afterwards all he could say was, “She’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever met!”
His father could not have agreed more.
A year prior, while in Dr. Steadman’s waiting room to have a knee inspected, my son was shocked when Lindsey Vonn suddenly appeared on crutches. Seeing his, she limped over to chat and compare injuries and the falls that caused them. While his father handled the moment without stepping on his tongue, afterwards all he could say was, “Whoa …”
My son could not have agreed more.
The point is that we’re surrounded by Olympic-caliber athletes here in the Vail Valley (and yes, that I mumble “Whoa…” at particular moments).
With a fair share of credit due to Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and Vail’s Ski & Snowboard Academy, it appears we’re just barely getting started as the “it” place for up-and-coming Winter Olympics athletes: Tess Johnson, Jake Pates, Megan Tierney and Charles Flaherty, just to name a few.
If not for an ACL tear, then Felix Coudouy would be representing the French Freestyle team, and like the New England Patriots (almost) winning another Super Bowl, Matt Leseur came oh-so-close to representing Bermuda in mogul competition.
With Lindsey winning the last three downhills in a row, she is poised to make an even larger impact on ski racing’s history books, establishing herself as perhaps the greatest ski racer of all time.
For those still rooting for her demise based solely on her political stance, I hope she teaches these partisan delusionists the meaning of the word “integrity.” Win or lose, it won’t be for lack of support from this community.
And the recently released NBC Sports documentary on Mikaela is not only highly entertaining to watch, it highlights our little valley as the fuel for the Winter Olympic engine.
Either way, my heart races every time I hear the Olympic theme song and get choked up during the final few seconds of every speed event, no matter who is competing.
Don’t miss the chance over the next two weeks to let it happen to you, too.
Richard Carnes, of Edwards, writes weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ski racer turned hotelier who was close to President Ford embodied the soul of Vail for nearly 60 years.