U.S. Ski Team writer, Paul Robbins, dies at 68
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Friday afternoon, following Lindsey Vonn’s clinching of the World Cup downhill title, a bunch of journalists phoned in for a teleconference.
We were greeted by the voice of ski journalist Paul Robbins. Right away, his voice ” one everyone in the ski world has come to trust, to laugh at and to respect ” brought about a sense of familiarity and calm.
The teleconference ran smoothly and contained all the Robbins trademarks ” his humor, his unending knowledge and his selflessness. When the conference was done, Robbins thanked us all and that was the last time most of us heard from him.
Robbins passed away of an apparent heart attack Saturday night while working at home in Vermont. He was 68.
For those of you who know Paul, there’s no need for me to list his endless achievements. For those who aren’t familiar, let me give a few examples of his work.
Paul covered ski sports for 30 years, worked at every Winter Olympics since the 1980 Games, was the United Press International bureau manager for New England, has provided commentary for countless media outlets, was a longtime U.S. Ski Team correspondent, a military information officer in Korea, and the list goes on and on. He knew more about competitive ski racing, particularly cross-country, than anyone, if not all of us combined.
Before reading several stories about Paul in the past two days, I had no idea just how accomplished he was.. Why? He never bothered to mention all of the impressive things he’d done. That’s just the kind of guy he was.
I didn’t really know who Paul was when I met him, new to the ski sport world myself. But I immediately took a liking to him. He was funny, down-to-earth and was able to relate to anything I said, and, as I quickly found out, a huge Red Sox fan. After only twenty minutes, I felt like I’d known him for years.
Like most of his friends, of which there are countless, I stayed in constant e-mail contact with Paul. Looking back, and now fully realizing just how much of a legend in the field he is, I feel honored that he was always in such close contact with a newby like me. It was that way with everyone, though. And that’s probably because more than anything, Paul was a great friend and a wonderful person.
If you walked into any press room in the ski world and asked who knows Paul, the entire room would nod, and smile, and recount a funny joke he told, a great piece he wrote, or the time he somehow got an athlete to talk about one of their worst performances ever.
Paul was the guy who, when you were on deadline and needed to know the last time an alpine skier from one country won consecutive races on the same weekend a fellow countryman did the same in cross-country, would not only tell you who did it, but give you the three times when it almost happened, all off the top of his head. And then he’d crack a joke, and if you were quick enough, you’d laugh five second later when it registered. Once you finished your story, you could chat with him about college football, American politics or European history and leave the conversation having learned two new things.
Paul made ski racers better. He didn’t coach them, but he wrote about them in a way that got the public’s attention and kept it. He humanized athletes and always respected the fact that, yes, they too have feelings.
Heck, he made this paper better. Really. While moderating a press conference in Aspen last year, Paul called on me for one final question, when it should have been over. Paul went out of his way to set me up with sources for stories during my first Birds of Prey. I’d just shaken his hand and introduced myself a few minutes prior.
And as was pointed out in a story sent out by the U.S. Ski and Snowboarding Association, Paul made all of our work better.
“One of Robbins’ final projects was moderation of a national media teleconference the day before his death with newly crowned World Cup downhill champion Lindsey Vonn. Robbins strategized to have two-time World Cup champion, and Olympic gold medalist, Picabo Street join the call to surprise Vonn and provide an even more enticing story for journalists,” the story said.
Not only did it make the story, it made Vonn and Street happy. To be one of the best in the world at what you do is one thing, but to be a remarkable person is another.
There truly was something missing at the this year’s Birds of Prey when Paul wasn’t there. I caught myself turning around in the press corral at the finish, wanting to share a joke with him ” one that I knew only he’d get because it was on a personal level between us. Later on, American Andrew Weibrecht stormed from way back in the pack during the downhill to land in the top 10, and we were all scrambling to figure out the last time someone did something like that.
I know that right now Paul is on a computer somewhere, reading this, so, Paul why don’t we just chat for a bit? Great job by Vonn this past weekend, huh? Think she can pull off the overall? What about Bode? So who is going to win the Democratic primary in Ohio and Texas? Are you loving this whole Roger Clemens fall from grace as much as I am or what? I think the Sox can do it this year again. Wouldn’t that be something? We’d be like the Yankees or something.
Paul was my friend. He was everyone’s friend.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.
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