Park Record columnist
As we head into the summer season before the 2014 Olympic Winter Game in Sochi, Behind the Gold will take a look back at some of the greatest moments in Winter Olympic history for America's skiers and snowboarders.
Nearly 20 years later, the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer are still remembered among the greatest in history. In the birthplace of the skiing, the tiny Norwegian mountain village put on a spectacular show over two frigid weeks, with seemingly every single Norwegian making the pilgrimage to see their heroes perform.
All the way back to 1924, the Summer and Winter Olympics were held in the same year. That all changed in 1994 as the International Olympic Committee split the Summer and Winter Games into different cycles, giving skiers the opportunity to compete in two Olympics spaced two years apart. The 1992 Olympics had been a breakthrough for the U.S. Ski Team. But the 1994 Games set a new standard one many weren't expecting.
Despite promising results in the World Championships a year earlier in Japan and in World Cups leading up to Lillehammer, Sports Illustrated called the U.S. Alpine Ski Team "Uncle Sam's lead-footed snowplow brigade."
That preview article could have dealt a crippling blow to team morale. Instead, coaches and athletes turned it into a motivator for the entire team, especially Montana-born-turned-Alaskan Tommy Moe, who would later remark, "We work very hard. We don't deserve to be ridiculed." But it was his skis that ultimately did the talking.
On a clear, bitter cold Norwegian day, Tommy Moe rewrote history winning the twisting, turning downhill in Kvitfjell, a half hour north of Lillehammer. It was as if he were in a daze wandering around the finish pinching himself. Mom and Dad had just arrived, sans tickets. That didn't keep them out of the venue, as they jumped fences to get to their son. Even Hillary Clinton got into the act, congratulating Moe on his win 10 years after Bill Johnson set the standard in Sarajevo.
Another, friendlier Sports Illustrated writer, William Oscar Johnson, was there to absorb the win. The veteran writer piled into the car with Moe on the way to get his gold medal, quickly grabbing a story on deadline.
It was Day One and Tommy Moe was on the cover of Sports Illustrated labeled simply: "Golden Boy."
It wouldn't be the last U.S. alpine medal. Moe would take silver in the super G on his birthday. Liz McIntyre would win silver in moguls. And 1992 silver medalist Diann Roffe, starting number one, would suffer through over an hour of watching other racers before claiming her Olympic gold in the women's super G.
Many called the Lillehammer Games the best ever. They were near perfect, with challenging courses, knowledgeable and passionate fans and great athletic performances.
For Tommy Moe, his opening weekend gold was the only major downhill he would win. A year later he suffered a serious knee injury, ironically, on the same course. He came back for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano where he finished 12th in downhill and 8th in super G before retiring. Today, he and wife Megan Gerety are raising their family in Jackson Hole where he serves as a ski ambassador. He also has an interest in a mountain lodge in Alaska and is a frequent star in Warren Miller videos. He was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and continues to be a strong supporter of the U.S. Ski Team.
Amidst it all, great memories remain of the day in 1994 when he became the Golden Boy.
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.