Park Record columnist
Two weeks the U.S. Alpine Ski Team came to Schladming, Austria, well prepared. By nature, Americans are big-event skiers. This team had opportunity lots of opportunity. But for all the hours of dryland and thousands of on-snow training runs, what put this team over the top was passion. You can't train for that. It was a team that flew on the wings of heroes.
The U.S. Ski Team left the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming as best in the world much as it did in Vancouver. It became the first non-European team ever to win the medals count. And while Ted Ligety, Mikaela Shiffrin and Julia Mancuso took medals from the host nation, they also warmed the hearts of the 300,000 Austrian fans that turned out in Schladming.
Ski racing in Austria is the national sport. Ski racing in America is, well, ski racing. But that's not how Ted, Mikaela and Julia see it.
Ski racing is part of the fabric of life in Squaw Valley. Julia Mancuso grew up in the shadows of the great Tamara McKinney and countless others.
Parkites know Ted Ligety's background well. As a young boy Ted was right there at America's Opening watching the likes of Alberto Tomba, Hermann Maier and Stephan Eberharter. It was ironic last week in Schladming that one of those most eager to meet Ted was none other than Tomba himself.
In just 17 short years, Mikaela Shiffrin has built a lifetime of passion. Growing up in summer ski camps in Austria, she idolized Marlies Schild and felt her race field was complete when Schild fought back from injury to race on Saturday.
Sport is built on heroes. And success on sport is contingent on following your heroes. The medals won in Schladming aren't just for today they're for the next generation who will follow. Mikaela wasted no time in putting out the word that she wants her racer friends in America to look towards that 2015 Worlds team for Vail/Beaver Creek.
Today's heroes set the example. Young ski racers in USSA clubs nationwide know the work and sacrifice Ted put into his three gold medals. They know that Ted, the most outspoken critic of the new GS skis, worked harder than anyone to master the new technique they required. Those young racers saw how much Mikaela simply loves, loves, loves to be out on skis and the fundamental skills that were instilled into her at an early age. And they see the fun that Julia Mancuso has until she puts her game face on and races to a medal under horrible conditions.
That's what ski racing is about. That's the cloth out of which heroes are made.
In the end, ski racing is simple. As Mikaela told a packed press conference on Saturday, it's nothing more than red gates, blue gates, a start and a finish. But what Ted, Mikaela and Julia did between those starts and finishes last week will leave golden memories that will last a lifetime.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team.