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Cole keeps hope alive

Some people try to dissuade Adam Cole when he tells them he’s still gunning for his first Olympic Games at 27. Funny thing, though: He thinks he knows better what’s best for himself.

"You get a lot of people who don’t think you have a chance," said Cole, a budding U.S. alpine star before injuries cost him prime development years. "I’d say that 70 percent are supportive, 30 percent tell you it’s time to move on. This has been my life, you know. I’ve seen success, and I think it’s within my reach."

After graduating from the Winter Sports School in 2000 – where he was named "student of the year" and forged a relationship with head Rob Clayton that would lead to a job this summer – Cole toured the world for three years on the U.S. Ski Team. At just 19, he raced in an International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup downhill and took 25th. That same year, skiing for the Park City Ski Team, he won the downhill junior world championship in Tarvisio, Italy, by edging out Austria’s Mario Scheiber (fourth in Vancouver’s Olympic downhill) and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal (the 2010 downhill silver medalist).

His results tapered off and he was dropped from the top team, but he continued to race in Europe and around the United States until an injury in early 2006. Cole then decided to attend college at the University of Denver in 2007 and became the first Pioneers skier to win national championships in both slalom and giant slalom – announcing himself yet again as a force to be reckoned with.

On the first run of his sophomore season, however, Cole came hurtling back down to earth. Skiing before family and friends in Park City at the Utah Invitational, Cole suffered a compound spiral fracture of his left tibia/fibula. The bone shot through the back of his calf, ripping the muscles in his lower leg, and he was sidelined for the next two seasons. He remained the captain of the alpine team, gaining valuable insight from the sidelines and training with the DU nordic ski team. But the comeback trail was long and arduous.

When he returned to the slopes in August 2009, 18 months later, he couldn’t make it down a full run. Each time he leaned back in his boot, searing pain shot through his lower leg. A CAT scan revealed the bone still wasn’t properly healing around the rods surgically inserted through his kneecap. To this day, two surgeries later, the bone has not healed 100 percent.

"It was just bad luck with how it healed," Cole said. "I had a teammate at DU who broke the same bone and was back skiing in six months. For me, it took 20 months."

Despite battling pain – and struggling to even jump on one foot – Cole still felt capable on the slopes during the 2009-10 season. He finished first in an FIS giant slalom in Italy in January and second in an FIS GS in Sugarbush, Vt., in March. Overall, he skied about 130 days and competed in almost 50 races, and although there were peaks and valleys, the experience renewed his confidence about his long-term racing prospects.

Another cause for hope is new equipment. Cole had a pair of "hand-me-downs" that he fell in love with when he began training last year, but those broke right before the start of the season. He switched sponsorships from Volkl to Rossignol in November of last year and was given some extra World Cup skis crafted for Olympic super G bronze medalist (and fellow WSS alum) Andrew Weibrecht. Weibrecht’s skis just never quite jived with Cole, and with an offseason to hammer out the kinks, Rossignol has put his mind at ease for next season.

"When I was racing on equipment I felt comfortable with, I was as fast as I’ve ever been," he said.

Cole was eyeing the 2010 Olympics from the outset of his comeback effort, and he thought he might have the fast track for Vancouver until the selection of 21-year-old Nolan Kasper. Now he’s shooting for 2014, 2018 and 2022. He would like to retire at 39 as a three-time Olympian.

"That’s how much I love what I’m doing," he said. "People my age, they don’t look twice at us because of statistics that (analyze) World Cup starts and the ages of competitors. I don’t think I can win World Cup globes at this point, at least not yet, but I think I can compete at that level."

His first goal is to qualify for the U.S. Ski Team’s "A" team and earn full financial support. To do that, he must win a NorAm title and make a few self-supported World Cup starts in the upcoming season.

The pain has all but subsided in his calf and lower leg, but scar tissue built up from the surgeries and has caused lingering knee problems. Cole said he was "a little bummed out" when tests showed that recent surgery to remove bone between his knee and tibia didn’t produced the desired effects. Cole just returned from skiing at Whistler, where he found it hard to put weight on the bad knee.

"I was still having the same pain," he said, estimating that he is at about 80 percent of normal health. "Now, we’re searching for an answer for that. We’re fairly sure that we’ve got a good plan."

He was scheduled to go to New Zealand to compete for three weeks in mid-August, but that trip is now unlikely. He will still probably attend training later in the fall in Chile, and he’s targeting a NorAm race Nov. 28.

"There’s no question that I think I can be right there," Cole said of his chances of rejoining the U.S. Ski Team. "If you’re skiing fast, people will recognize that and help you out."

The son of Cole Sport owners Gary and Jana Cole, he works for his parents’ company about 20 hours a week, and also recently assumed a part-time role as head conditioning coach at the Winter Sports School. "I’m making ends meet," he said. "I wouldn’t call it making a living."

The WSS was opened in 1994 to provide winter athletes with college preparation during the summer months, and Cole is one of its distinguished alumni. WSS head Rob Clayton offered him a conditioning coach job as a way to continue his training while helping his students make strides during the offseason.

"Adam’s always been very disciplined in his dry-land training and loves to work out," said Clayton in a news release.

Though Cole said recent surgeries have prevented him from working out with the students as much as he’d like, he has been training with them every day during the week from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., leading squats, cleans and box jumps.

"It helps to have someone that can show them they can do it harder and better," he said, adding that the students’ competitive desire is not quite as intense as it was in his days at the school. "I’m just going to try to give 100 percent so I can lead by example."


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