Long shot for Leever: SSCV alumni eyes Olympic opportunity
Ski and Snowboard Club Vail's Alex Leever needs a big performance in Sunday’s final slalom tryout to make Olympics
Alex Leever knows how to overcome the odds.
On year after cutting his 2019-2020 season short after two herniated discs and a concussion, the 26-year old independent skier worked through months of intensive chiropractic treatment, physical therapy and an unconventional strength program to post a memorable top-30 World Cup finish. His crash through the Schladming, Austria finish line qualified him for the 2021 World Championship team.
“I really didn’t ever think I would make it this far, so it’s really all gravy from here,” Leever told Ski Racing Media earlier this year.
Now, the 26-year old is faced with another long shot: the opportunity to represent his country at the Olympics. On Sunday, the final World Cup slalom event before the U.S. Alpine team is named goes down at Wengen, Switzerland. In order to punch his ticket to Beijing, Leever will need a huge performance.
“Essentially, I would have to have a really good weekend in Wengen — like podium, top-5 level — because I would have to create a new spot for the U.S. to be allocated,” Leever explained from his Swiss hotel room over a Zoom call earlier this week.
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In 2018, the U.S. sent 24 Alpine athletes — 13 male — to Pyeongchang. Heading into Beijing, the men’s team has only earned six slots through the FIS quota allocation process, while the women have nine. In addition to meeting the U.S. team’s criteria for Olympic nomination, Leever would likely have to create a new spot in accordance with the FIS allocation standards, hence the need for a big day.
“There’s obviously a chance, but this confluence of events — less races than normal, less spots than normal, earlier window than normal, is making it a little more challenging,” Leever stated.
Leever earned independent World Cup slalom starts up until the Olympics begin in February, but the Zagreb, Croatia World Cup slalom was canceled and the slaloms in Kitzbuehel, Austria and Schladming, Austria at the end of January occur outside the qualifying window. Thus, the 26-year old University of Denver graduate’s Olympic hopes rest on Sunday’s race, though he isn’t taking such a dire approach.
“I’m feeling good. I’m trying not to treat Sunday’s race like a make or break, everything rides on this, because that never works out,” he said.
“If you put that much mental pressure on yourself, you’ll never succeed.” Even though Leever posted a DNQ and a DNF in his last two slaloms, respectively, he feels his three World Cups have acted as stepping stones in his seasonal progression. Admittedly conservative at the Val d’Isere, France event — “Hence, I was slow,” he said — he took the opposite, assertive approach at the Madonna di Campiglio in Italy.
“I was just going as hard as I could and made a big mistake because I wasn’t in control; I was just trying to go as fast as I could,” he described.
In Adelboden, Switzerland, he was pleased with his mental state, cognizant of his intentions and strategy.
“And then my ski pops off,” he chuckled, failing to recount the last time the unlikely occurence has ever happened to him.
“Those are the ones you’ve just got to shake off.”
Because he was not named to the U.S. Alpine team, Leever has had to organize every aspect of World Cup travel and competition. His trusted coach of 12 years, Peter Lange, is also his technician. Even though there is a cumulative effect from the solo act, he recognizes the positives which come with it.
“Sometimes it can be nice, too, to take your mind off of skiing to try and figure out where the next COVID test is gonna be or where hotels are going to be,” the admittedly introverted athlete said. He has been able to stay in the assigned hotels with his American teammates, joining them for training, meals, and the occasional gallivanting around European cities, though tagging along for the latter is sometimes hit or miss.
“When it’s obvious, I get invited along on things, but if it’s less obvious, they might forget — I’m not in the group chat,” Leever said.
“They’re all really nice guys. I’ve grown up skiing with a lot of them, so I’ve known them from before. Some of the guys I’m closer with than others.”
Competing for coveted spots against comrades isn’t something he relishes.
“There is this little tension that I’m not a named member and I am their competition since I’m not one of them. So, there’s always this little bit of — if I beat them in training, it’s not like, ‘oh, congrats,’ it’s like, ‘uh, we have to deal with him now,’” he said.
“It’s annoying because I wish it wasn’t like that.”
In Wengen, he knows the key to success is trusting in his ability.
“Realizing you don’t have to do anything special, outside your realm of possibility, to score. I just have to ski well, like I can do in training, like I do do, and it will work out,” he said.
“For Sunday and the rest of the races, I want to keep putting myself in the best possible position to succeed.”
Leever, whose late-blooming career has been characterized by steady improvement, isn’t ready to put the planks away yet. When he does, though, he’ll probably apply his master’s degree in finance to something that parallels the competitive drive he’s stoked on the slopes for 20-plus years.
“When skiing’s over, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing exactly; something in business,” he said.
“Something where I can find that competitive aspect of trying to improve things and try to make whatever you’re doing the best you can be.”
For the guy whose first experience on skis was being pushed down his family’s Vail driveway as a 2-year old, the Olympics would be a treat, but it isn’t the end-all-be-all.
“If the Olympics happen, that would be amazing. If not, life goes on. There’s still lots of racing, and lots of life to live. It will be good either way,” he said.