Park Record columnist
Alice McKennis stood barefoot in the snow, the mountains of Sochi behind her and fog settling at her feet. She threw her crutches aside - tools of her trade after a season-ending crash in Garmisch just six weeks after winning the Audi FIS World Cup downhill in St. Anton. Now it was time for action.
No, it wasn't an Olympic test event at Rosa Khutor. It was another day in the studio last week in West Hollywood as NBC put 49 U.S. skiers and snowboarders through the rigors of a 10-hour day in front of the bright lights. It was all a part of building the show for NBC's anticipated 200 million U.S. TV viewers and 100 million web visitors next February.
Amidst the fun and frivolity of living a star's life for a day, it was serious business - a day of endless wardrobe changes that would leave even the number one women's speed team in the world breathless.
It was a lot about lifestyle but also about what got them there. They were Best in the World. Despite the loss of superstar Lindsey Vonn to an intestinal ailment and ultimately a blown knee, the women's speed team ran away with the title. Vonn and McKennis picked up downhill wins. Julia Mancuso medaled at worlds. And Stacey Cook, Laurenne Ross and Leanne Smith all found the podium. From start gate to finish line, they were on their own. But off the race course, they were a team - supporting each other and there in the stadium every race to welcome their teammates to the finish.
Whiling away the endless hours of travel, the girls know how to have fun. Ross - a talented musician when she's not ripping down the mountain at 75 mph - has spearheaded a little musical ensemble with Cook joining on guitar and Smith on vocals as they nailed a Nickel Creek cover in a taping for the TODAY Show.
They went through interview after interview - Getty Images here, Access Hollywood there. Julia Mancuso went through take after take blowing snow from her hands. E! News brought in special anchor Giuliana Rancic to interview Vonn.
And they looked like a million bucks with makeup artists at their beck and call. "I got a good chuckle when I walked in to hair and makeup, and they called for hair backup within the first minute of me being there," laughed Cook. "Leanne and Laurenne didn't even recognize me when they came in! Leanne says I now have to learn to do my hair like that!"
The girls have plenty of fans and will have millions more this February. They're a fun group to be around - enjoying life and truly supporting each other. Sure, there will be a new level of intensity as six girls vie for just four Olympic starting spots. But the good news is that every one of them can win in Sochi.
For production crews used to Hollywood starlets, it was a treat for them to be around true athletic greatness. Wardrobe artists brushed their clothes and fluffed their hair, sound technicians tweaked the mikes, cameramen went through the motions hundreds and hundreds of times to capture that special look that would evoke passionate emotion next February.
It was showtime last week at Smashbox Studios. It will be go time in just 281 days in Sochi. Stay tuned.
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.