Olympic glory: Chasing the dream
Editor’s note: With the 2004 Olympics opening in Athens today, the staff of the Vail Daily’s sister paper The Eagle Valley Enterprise began a search for Eagle County residents who had, at one time in their lives, pursued personal dreams of Olympic glory. In the coming weeks, the Enterprise and the Vail Daily will run a series of articles featuring the stories of these local athletes, who devoted large chunks of their lives, trying to reach the ultimate goal of all amateur competitors – the Olympics.By David L’HeureuxEagle CorrespondentWhen longtime Eagle resident Glen Ewing left for Western State College in Gunnison on a wrestling scholarship in 1970, he had no way of knowing that his athletic path would lead to a shot at the 1980 Winter Olympics biathlon competition in Lake Placid, N.Y.After quickly realizing that college wrestling was “not for him,” Ewing moved on to the Western State cross-country skiing team. It was a move that would drastically alter the next 10 years of his life, and take him to the brink of competing on the world’s most recognizable stage.However, Ewing’s dreams of Olympic glory would come up just short, as a result of some poor qualifying performances in the months leading up to the 1980 games. He, like so many Olympic hopefuls before and since, learned the hard way that stories about Olympic dreams, often end up as tales of heartbreak.This is the story of Ewing’s quest. It is a story of hard work, commitment, dedication, disappointment, and finally, fulfillment.The college yearsAfter a promising prep wrestling career at Canon City High School, Ewing accepted a scholarship to compete at Western State. Not long after his arrival there, Ewing knew he had made a mistake.”I went there ready to wrestle, but things just didn’t work out,” said Ewing, who cited problems with the coach as one of his major reasons for cutting short his career.
So, Ewing began skiing. He trained with the college cross-country team as a red-shirt freshman, and made the team his sophomore year.Ewing went on to compete for four years at Western, earning numerous individual and team honors. When school was over, Ewing wasn’t ready to give up on competing. He didn’t see a future in doing strictly cross country, so he turned to biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship.”It is a very unique sport, because shooting is diametrically opposed to cross-country skiing,” said Ewing. “You have to monitor your heart rate so when you get to the range, you can shoot. Every time your pulse beats, the gun moves, so you have to learn to shoot between pulses.”Learning to shootThe move to biathlon – an Olympic sport since 1928, with deep roots in its military background – was a challenging one for Ewing. The main obstacle for him was that, by his own admission, he “couldn’t shoot.” “At a certain point I realized that to be good at biathlon you had to be more than just a good skier,” said Ewing. “You had to be able to shoot, too.”So, for two years after graduating with a biology major, Ewing spent his summers at an Army base in Fort Benning, Ga., training with the U.S. rifle team and various Olympic coaches who also summered at the base.”All summer we would roller ski around the base with our rifles and train and shoot,” said Ewing. “I got a lot of help from those guys down there. They were pretty much the best in the world.”Ewing made the national biathlon team from 1976-1980. The training schedule demanded that he be on the road almost constantly, leaving behind his new wife, Janet, and traveling from Squaw Valley, Calif., to Jackson Hole Wyo., to Burlington, Vt., to improve his skills and be with the team. The season would culminate with trips to places like Lillehammer, Norway, and Hochfilzen, Austria, for the World Biathlon Championships. For the better part of five years, Ewing devoted his life to making the 1980 Olympic Biathlon team. Janet took a job as an elementary school teacher in the Eagle Valley, and the couple settled in Eagle, which served as Glen’s home base while he pursued his dream. It was a dream he would barely miss out on.
Coming up shortDespite Ewing’s successes, his failure to make the Olympic team came down to a few bad competitions.”I was looking good after the first few competitions,” said Ewing. “I thought I was going to make the team. I went home for Christmas break and then we continued competing on the East Coast. That’s where things started falling apart. I just had a few a really bad races.”Ironically, after the Olympics, he finished with a second and a fourth at the World Championships. “I was red hot right before, and red hot after, but there was that period where I was just terrible and that cost me a spot on the team,” recalls Ewing.The disappointment from coming so close to achieving his dream and then falling just short is evident when Ewing begins talking about that period of his life.”I honestly never wanted to see or hear anything about biathlon ever again,” said Ewing. “You want to take it as far as you can take it, but when you don’t get to that goal, it is really hard to rationalize all the time and effort and money you spent trying to get there.”Still, Ewing says he wouldn’t trade that period of his life for anything, even though there were times when racing became a job for him and much of the joy of the sport was gone.Ewing’s wife, Janet, said the times apart from her husband were tough, but she is glad he did what he did.”It was the opportunity of a lifetime for him,” she said. “If you don’t do it, you could look back and say well, what if? You can’t pass up the chance.”Lifetime of memories, lessons
The stories Ewing has from his competing days could fill a book. What stands out most are the friendships he formed and the experiences he had along the way. From trading gifts with team members from competing Soviet Bloc countries to the time he watched a Greek biathlon team member light up a cigarette in a competition, Ewing recalls his days as a U.S. national team member with joy in his eyes.”The Russians always wanted to trade stuff with us,” said Ewing. “We had stuff they couldn’t get, and vice versa. It was always tough though because they were under Communist rule, and the political officials who watched over them were hard to get around.”The lessons he learned from competing at that level have stayed with him, too, and come through in his everyday life as well as his coaching -he coaches the Eagle Valley’s boys and girls golf teams and the Nordic skiing team.”It did teach me patience, and made me understand that, especially with coaching, not to push kids to hard,” said Ewing. “If they (the kids) have it in them, it will come out. A lot of coaches over-train and push too hard. I see a lot of coaches running their kids to death. These seasons are only 90 days long at the high school level. If you push too hard, they might not recover for the entire season.”Moving onIn the end, pursuing a goal such as competing in the Olympics, is a matter of “doing it for yourself,” observes Ewing.”You have to understand that you probably wont make much or any money from it,” he said. “Athletes who fail to reach that goal, just have to deal with it and move on.”With his own days of competition long gone, Ewing is content to be a father, a coach, an aspiring commercial pilot and a fan of his kids, all of whom excel at their own athletic and scholarly pursuits. Son Todd, 23, a stand-out wrestler at Eagle Valley, is a senior at Colorado State; daughter Joan, is a college golfer at Embry-Riddle Flight School in Florida; and the twins, Jill and James, 17, are entering their senior years at Eagle Valley. Jill is a top golfer and James is learning to fly with his dad. Both ski on the Devils Nordic team.When asked if he still follows the sport that nearly took him to the Olympics, Ewing simply shakes his head and says no. The pain has faded, but it’s still there. Still, he says he is happy with where he has been, and where he is now.”I’m just enjoying life with my kids, and my wife,” said Ewing. “If I had it to do again, I don’t think I would change anything. Competing in the biathlon, with such great athletes, helped make me who I am today.”This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.