Roots of Racing series: The Bob Beattie era
Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum
This winter, Vail/Beaver Creek are hosting the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships for a third time. The Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum has opened its ski racing archives to tell stories that connect the dots between today’s spectacular made-for-TV competition extravaganzas and their humble beginnings. This series will feature many of the significant milestones, instigated here in Colorado by individuals now enshrined in the Hall of Fame, which helped shape skiing and international racing. When you are in Vail Village, stop by the museum for a trip through skiing’s past. For more information, go to http://www.skimuseum.net.
In 1957, Bob Beattie became head coach of the University of Colorado Boulder’s ski team, but it wasn’t the strong competitor it is today. Willy Schaeffler, who would become a fierce rival of Beattie’s, coached and succeeded with the European-powered University of Denver. Beattie was determined to win with Americans, and any American ski racer today owes him for it.
In the next few years, Beattie recruited and coached Buddy Werner, Bill Marolt, Jimmie Heuga and Billy Kidd, the same members of the 1964 U.S. Olympic team. Coach and athletes alike split time training, clashing with Schaeffler and his athletes and racing in Europe, all on an incredibly small budget.
Beattie was a travel and fundraising mastermind. He found lodging with locals instead of hotels (including the CU fraternities and sororities), hosted training camps, and attended events and banquets with his athletes.
“Bob Beattie knew how to get stuff done,” Kidd said.
It was an attribute that defined his career, along with his infamously tough coaching and conditioning.
“It depends what you describe as hard. Yeah, we were hard, I wanted them to be in the best shape in the world, and they were, and very frankly, they appreciated that,” Beattie said
Kidd’s description of the conditioning was “near deadly,” but the results were inarguable.
The American men had been performing well on a consistent basis in the years prior to the 1964 Olympics, but besides Werner, the team was unproven.
“There was potential for greatness, but no great expectations,” Kidd said.
And though Beattie knew exactly what his team was capable of, he made some ambitious boasts.
“We had guaranteed America one, two, three in every event,” Beattie said. “There we were at the last event (the slalom), and we haven’t won any medals yet.”
Despite lack of funding, eligibility disputes, no downhill or giant slalom medals and doubt from most of the world (including Schaeffler), in 1964, the U.S. won its first medals in men’s ski racing, with Kidd and Heuga taking silver and bronze in the slalom respectively. On the women’s side, Jean Saubert tied for silver in giant slalom and took bronze in slalom.
Tragically, the idol and leader of the younger athletes, Buddy Werner, died in an avalanche in the same year. One of only two Americans to win the Hahnenkamm and an incredibly talented skier was gone.
Despite the loss of Werner, the team carried a lot of hope and momentum into the ’68 Olympics in Grenoble. Sports Illustrated featured Kidd and Heuga on the cover of the Olympic issue, ABC covered and hyped up the event, and everyone was excited to watch the defending medalists perform.
“It was an exciting time to be a part of the U.S. Ski Team, part of a changing time not just for the team, but for skiing in America,” Kidd said.
That excitement and expectation — from the team, the officials, the nation — is what made Grenoble so disappointing.
“Unfortunately, Jean-Claude Killy hogged all the medals,” Kidd said.
The U.S. team didn’t place in any event, men’s or women’s. Schaeffler, along with many others, criticized Beattie’s incredibly tough coaching, and suggested he focused too much on fundraising and not enough on the athletes. It was the last Olympics for Kidd and Heuga, and neither Marolt nor Werner competed. It was the end of a chapter. In 1969, Beattie who had co-founded the World Cup race series with Otto Lange, in 1965, stepped down from the position of head coach of the U.S. Ski Team. What followed next in Beattie’s and his athletes careers would change the face of ski racing forever.
Many of today’s successful American ski racers such as Ted Ligety, Julia Mancuso, Bode Miller, Steven Nyman, Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Andrew Weibrecht can trace the roots of their racing winning ways back to the 1960s when America first became a ski racing powerhouse.