Park Record columnist
After a medal-less 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France, for the U.S. Ski Team, the 1970s dawned on a new age for the sport. Metal skis and buckled boots brought broader popularity to skiing in the United States from coast to coast. New resorts like Vail, Snowbird and Park City Ski Area were springing up and the Olympic Winter Games went to Asia for the first time.
The world saw towering alpine peaks on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido as the Olympics came to Sapporo. The eyes of America were on a family from Vermont, the Cochrans a story that still continues today.
Mickey and Ginny's kids loved skiing. So, in 1961, he built them their own ski run outside the family home in northern Vermont. The Cochran name was synonymous with the sport in the early '70s. Mickey taught them to ski and he also taught them life lessons that would serve them both as athletes and in their daily lives.
The 1972 U.S. Ski Team was stacked with Cochrans: Bobby, Marilyn and Barbara Ann (Lindy would make her Olympic debut in 1976). But it had been 20 years since an American had won gold. And there were no real expectations that would change given the strength of the French women coming into Sapporo. Then, midway through the Games, American Suzy Corrock came through with bronze in the downhill. Finally, on the closing day of the Games, it was Barbara Ann Cochran's turn.
Heavy snow was falling on the slalom course. Barbara Ann had drawn bib number one and battled into the lead. But her finish gave her a later start on the second run, on a course that was rapidly piling up speed-sucking snow. But the fresh snow never fazed her. She charged hard onto the course, knowing the challenge that she faced.
As she crossed the finish line, she knew in her heart she had skied a great run. But was it enough? She glanced into the stands and saw the Americans burst into cheers. At that point, she knew. She had become an Olympic champion! Her margin of victory was a mere two-hundredths of a second a margin that would stand as a record for 26 years until Picabo Street won the super G by just a hundredth in 1998.
Barbara Ann took her lessons learned as a ski-racing Cochran into a career as an educator. Today, she operates a sport-consulting business in Vermont where she counsels parents, coaches and athletes on how to get the most out of athletics to serve them in life. Fifty years later, the tiny Cochran's Ski Area her parents developed now a local nonprofit is still playing a role offering a low-cost opportunity for Vermont kids to get engaged in the sport, as well as providing an opportunity for new ski racing athletes as a key USSA club program.
"I learned that you can achieve your dreams if you love what you're doing, believe in yourself, and work hard to improve," says the Hall of Famer, who still carries those lessons from her parents. "The secret to success is doing the best that you can do. Forget about whether you might win or lose. By working hard and practicing the skills that you need to perform, the results will take care of themselves. Being successful is about doing your best.
Barbara Ann Cochran's 1972 gold medal was about family and team. That Cochran legacy continues today. Of the 10 children of the first generation of U.S. Ski Team Cochrans, six made it to the national team beginning with Barbara Ann's nephew, Jimmy. Today, her son Ryan Cochran-Siegle is making his own mark with growing experience on the World Cup. As proud as Barbara Ann was winning a gold medal in 1972, she was even prouder to be in the finish area to see her son win two gold medals at the 2012 Junior World Championships in Italy.
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.