Washington, D.C., may be the political capital of the nation, but Park City is the nation's capital of skiing and snowboarding. In addition to overseeing most of the ski and snowboard competition sites during the 2002 Winter Olympics and regularly hosting both World Cup ski and Grand Prix snowboard events, Park City is home to the nerve center of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) and its Center of Excellence, which opened in 2009.
The center is a far cry from the ramshackle mining buildings that housed the U.S. Ski Team's nascent training center in the early 1970s. Back then the country's top alpine skiers stayed in three old mine company bunkhouses and trained on newly cut runs off King Con Ridge at the Park City Ski Area, now known as Park City Mountain Resort.
The training center helped the town lure the ski team headquarters away from Utah's main ski industry rival, Colorado. Park City became the official home of the U.S. Ski Team in 1974 and, when the ski team merged in 1988 with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, which was then based in Boulder, the whole kit and caboodle moved to a spot on Kearns Boulevard.
That might help explain why Parkites feel such a strong personal connection to the spectacular events currently unfolding in Sochi, Russia. Let's admit it this has been an emotional roller coaster of a week. And, to be honest, some of our athletes have handled their triumphs and heartbreaks better than we have. While we've been, by turns, boastful and critical, they have been, across the board, humble and gracious.
Park City residents couldn't be more proud of the extraordinarily talented competitors of Team USA and of our part in helping to nurture them through the USSA. From the classic alpine and nordic disciplines to the radical new freestyle ski and snowboard events, we have been bewitched by their agility and courage. But in our enthusiasm we may have also set some unrealistic expectations.
With that in mind, we would do well to take a cue from some of the athletes who did not quite land on the pedestals we created for them. Shaun White is a perfect example. While we cursed the fact that he did not achieve another hoped-for medal, White congratulated the winners who outperformed him and then hopped a barricade to shake hands with two fervent "Make A Wish" fans who had come to watch him.
White reminded us that an athlete's true legacy encompasses much more than accumulating medals. As role models, part of their job is to inspire the next generation and then to gracefully welcome them to the podium when it's their turn.
The USSA's oft-repeated motto is "best in the world." Medals or not, in our eyes, this year's Olympic ski and snowboard athletes are exactly that.