It wasn't gold, but it was fitting. In a town whose history is steeped in silver mining history, three freestyle skiers mined their own precious me(d)al in storybook fashion at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. One was a hometown hero, having grown up in town and jumping on his home hill. Two others won wild card spots on the team through the "winner take all" Gold Cup just six weeks earlier.
New Hampshire-born Joe Pack moved with his family to Park City when he was young to take advantage of the new freestyle aerial training facility at what is now the Utah Olympic Park. A local high school football and soccer star, Pack literally packed them in at Deer Valley nearly everyone in town was there. It was a tough field, including teammate and defending Olympic champ Eric Bergoust.
Going into the second and final jump, Bergie had the lead with Pack in third. But things changed when Czech Ales Valenta decided to risk it with a quintuple-twisting triple on his second jump a jump never before (or after) nailed in a competition at this level. And he hit it. Perfectly. Pack was jumping for silver, and he got it. Bergoust, meanwhile, knew he would need to be absolutely perfect in his quad-twisting triple, and he slapped back. But the Park City fans were thrilled their hometown hero had won silver.
Travis Mayer grew up in western New York on tiny hills. Shannon Bahrke was a Squaw Valley girl. Their Olympic journey started six weeks earlier ironically on the very same hill when they each won a ticket back with a win in the Gold Cup.
It was opening day for the Olympics at Deer Valley. The huge Bahrke Brigade was in place waving signs. At the top, Shannon's face glitter reflected in the light as she put down an amazing run, edged out only by Norway's Kari Traa, who was perfect. It was the first medal of the Games for Team USA.
Travis Mayer had been inspired as a six-year-old watching the Olympics from Calgary. He grew up in New York, but grew as an athlete in Steamboat Springs, where his family had a home. But a year before the Games the teen almost hung it up. He was seemingly mired on the C Team. But that changed in December. He came into the Games under the radar, with the media spotlight on his teammates. But he left center stage, winning silver with a stunning performance in the bumps in Deer Valley.
Today, Bahrke who went on to win another bronze in 2010 at Vancouver - is a new mom and runs Silver Bean Coffee with husband Matt. She remains one of the sport's most vocal cheerleaders and the centerpiece of the annual Jan's Winter Welcome fundraiser for Park City athletes.
Pack is married and working as a golf pro in Hawaii. A year ago he was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Mayer went on to law school at Harvard and, today, works as vice president of business development at Intrawest Resorts in Denver.
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.