Cook ready to make Olympic debut
SAN SICARIO, Italy ” At the World Cup events in Aspen in December, Stacey Cook didn’t think there was any way she would be going to the Olympics in February.
But the 21-year-old from Truckee, Calif., unwittingly skied into the fast lane this season, and will compete in the women’s Olympic downhill event in San Sicario, Italy, on Wednesday.
It was just a couple of weeks before the Games that Cook discovered she was on the team. After posting an eighth-place and a 10th place in the World Cup downhill races in Lake Louise, Alberta, early in the season, followed by a 15th in Cortina, Italy, about two weeks ago, Cook was put on the Olympic list
“I was so excited. I really didn’t think it was going to happen ” going to the Olympics this year,” she said Tuesday, after placing 17th in the final downhill training run.
“You kind of have an idea when it comes time for the selection who’s going to be on the team. I was definitely nervous when they made the announcement, but I was so excited afterward and I’m so excited to be here.”
Cook said that, minus the first couple of days of overwhelming media attention in Torino, the Olympics have a similar feel to the World Cup events ” to which she has only had the last two seasons to grow accustomed. She joined the U.S. Ski Team in 2004.
“The field is pretty much the same, the course is in the same condition as the World Cup would be,” she said. “The first couple of days with press conferences and the opening ceremonies were a little different, for sure. But when we’re out here in the fresh air, it’s just refreshing. You can focus out here. I’ve been able to ski the way I want every day.”
Cook’s parents had just enough notice to buy tickets and find accommodation in Italy to accompany their daughter for her Olympic debut and were watching her train on Tuesday.
Since Cook regards teammate Lindsey Kildow as one of her primary role models, she was shaken when Kildow crashed in training on Monday and was airlifted to a hospital in Torino. While Kildow has subsequently been released and remains on the start list for Wednesday’s race, she and her medical advisors will make a game-time decision on whether or not she will compete.
“Lindsey is one of my big mentors,” Cook said. “She guides me a lot. We’re the same age, but as far as experience, I’m so much younger. I rely on her a lot for advice when I need it, and to see her go down (on Monday) was pretty hard.”
Cook saw Kildow’s boyfriend, former ski racer Thomas Vonn, just before he left the mountains to visit Kildow in the hospital, and Cook sent well wishes with him for her teammate, as well as “a big hug.”
Cook raced on the San Sicario course last season, before it was altered with heightened jumps and more technical terrain. She had sustained a concussion just before her race at that time, and said she doesn’t remember the course as it was in its milder form. She does understand, however, the quickness in which a crash like Kildow’s can occur and the inherent dangers of a sport like downhill, where racers reach speeds up to 80 mph.
“It happens so fast when you catch an edge,” Cook said. “You don’t even know what’s happening. All of a sudden you’re down on the ground. I don’t think any amount of athletic ability would be able to save it. But when you get to this level, anything can happen.”
As far as Cook’s race on Wednesday, she feels ready and is undaunted by seeing her teammate crash.
“It is tough, but it’s also what we do,” she said. “As much as we are a team and we love our teammates, it’s part of the sport being able to come out the next day and perform on your own.
“I’m a ski racer and this is what I do. I have to learn to deal with that.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.