Schlopy retires from U.S. Ski Team
SALT LAKE CITY ” One of the longest careers in U.S. ski racing history came to quiet end when Erik Schlopy veered off a giant slalom course in France and just stopped.
The three-time Olympian had an epiphany. He wanted to be around his family more than he wanted to race.
“It was just a thunderstruck moment,” Schlopy recalled. “I said ‘time to go home.”‘
At 36, Schlopy already had a much longer run than most athletes. His goal of reaching a fourth Olympics seemed much less significant than being at home with his wife and two young children. So that was it. No last run. No World Cup farewell.
Schlopy’s racing career officially ended Dec. 13 with a “did not finish” in the giant slalom at Val d’Isere, France, more than 16 years after his World Cup debut.
He felt like he was in the best shape of his life and could still compete, but he missed his family. His wife is Summer Sanders, the Olympic swimmer and television broadcaster who won two gold medals. She was home with daughter, Skye, who will turn 3 in April, and 1-year-old son, Spider, named after the late skier “Spider” Sabich.
“Nothing would replace the time with my kids and the age that they’re at,” Schlopy said. “Every minute is just irreplaceable and precious.”
Schlopy mulled over the decision for a few days. He considered sticking around until the World Championships or maybe even the end of the season.
“I realized at that point I had already made my decision, so didn’t make sense to even race another race,” he said. “It was very emotional for me. When I got home, didn’t really talk to any of my good friends about it. I just kind of needed to unplug for a couple of weeks.”
He spent the next month at the beach in California, surfing, playing golf and being dad.
His emotions have settled enough to reflect on his career, which included three Olympics, seven national titles and the bronze medal in the giant slalom at the 2003 World Championships. That year, American teammate and close friend Bode Miller won the title.
Schlopy’s racing days could have ended much earlier with any of a number of crashes, including one during a 1993 training run that broke his back, displaced his sternum and caused him to bite his tongue half off. He was back on skis within a year, in time for his first Olympics in 1994.
“Obviously I feel very lucky that I was able to be competitive for so long,” Schlopy said. “I’m still competitive. If I wanted to be, I could have been several more years on the tour. The body and the mind weren’t the hurdle I couldn’t overcome. It was really priorities.”
Schlopy first made the U.S. Ski Team in 1991. He left in 1995 for a few years on the pro circuit, but decided to return and had to earn his way back on the national team. He was officially back on the roster by 2000 and has been there since.
The younger members of the team took to calling him “Old School,” both because of his longevity and the work ethic that allowed him to keep racing.
“He knew what the whole ski world was all about and had a ton of knowledge. He always had a great attitude. He was super into helping the young guys come up,” said Ted Ligety, the 2006 Olympic combined champion. “He wants to be a dad and it’s tough to be a dad when you’re on the road all the time.”
Schlopy knows he could have had a grand send-off if he had chosen to finish the season, then retire. One final podium would have been nice, but not as nice as being around when Spider starts talking or Skye grows from a toddler to little girl. There will be shuttling kids to swim lessons, ski lessons and any other activity the children take up.
With their athletic lineage, Schlopy is going to be one busy dad. And that’s exactly why he chose to retire.
“I want to be healthy to enjoy my kids,” he said. “For me to retire healthy on my own terms, I’m proud of that. I wasn’t injured. I wasn’t forced out of the sport. It was under my own power.”