How race technician Blake Lewis prepped skis for Olympic gold BY JACK MOORE
Swifter, Stiffer, SHARPER
Getting Behind the Wheel
Lewis was working as a rep in the ski industry in the 1970s when he landed a part-time
job with Atomic’s Pro Team, which was competing in Bob Beattie’s World Pro Ski Tour.
Since all the team members were European,
and nearly all the races were staged in the
U.S., Atomic wanted an American to assist
the team and drive their van from race to
race. Blake signed up and got the job.
It was during this time that Lewis met
Fischer Skis’ Helmut Langwallner, who
was the race technician for World Cup and
Olympic downhill ace Franz Klammer. This
was also when stone-grinding machines and
wax brushes were first appearing on the tuning scene.
Accordingly, Langwallner started doing extensive research and experimentation with
different base structure grinds on the Austrian racer’s skis, as well as extensive waxing,
scraping and brushing work. Langwallner’s
efforts were rewarded by Klammer’s consistent commanding wins in World Cup downhills at that time, as well as by his wild unforgettable run that captured downhill gold
at the Innsbruck 1976 Games.
Blake Lewis sets a side-edge bevel.
FEW AMERICAN ski technicians can lay
claim to helping an athlete win gold at the
Olympic Winter Games — especially in the
downhill, where tuning and waxing play
a more critical role than in the technical
races. Blake Lewis is one of the few Yankee
techs to have earned those Olympic stripes.
Working in the Atomic factory provided
two other major benefits for Lewis. He was
able to help choose construction parameters,
base materials and base structure grinds for
his athletes’ skis. In addition, he could pull
skis off the production line in June instead
of August, when other technicians usually
selected their skis. This not only let Lewis
personally check each ski’s flex, torsional
stiffness and overall quality to assure he was
getting the fastest possible gear for his athletes, but also gave him two extra months to
prep skis before race season. Lewis would
initially pull about 15 pairs of downhill skis
for each athlete; that would get pared down
to about six pairs after speed-test trials.
In 1982, Lewis became the Atomic Race
Service tech rep for the U.S. Ski Team,
which included downhiller Bill Johnson. It
was a good match. Johnson was a fast glider,
and Lewis knew as much as any technician
by then how to deliver fast skis. His put his
knowledge and expertise about ski construction, materials, base structure and race
tuning to work with the aim of propelling
Bill to the Olympic podium in 1984.
Setting the Stage
Gaining an Inside Line
In 1977, Langwallner went to Austria to
work for Atomic as Pro Team director
“Sarajevo was only modestly prepared to
host the 1984 Winter Olympics,” Lewis re-
calls. Due to housing shortages, many local
people were displaced from their homes
to accommodate the Olympic athletes,
staff, officials and press corps. There were
few spectators to watch the races and few
souvenirs to buy in Sarajevo. “Basically,
the event was set up for television viewing
more than it was to accommodate a live au-
dience,” says Lewis.
(eventually becoming Atomic race director), and subsequently invited Lewis to be
his apprentice there. Lewis moved in just
down the street from the Atomic factory
and, in addition to honing his tuning skills,
studied everything he could about ski construction. This included curing wood to make ski cores, melting polyethylene pellets so they could be
molded into billets and shaved into sintered P-tex bases, and learning how
steel was rolled and cut into ski edges. Most importantly, it taught Lewis
about the materials and designs that make skis fast.
Some organizational details were also lacking. “I was issued credentials to get into our
ski prep room, but no credentials to get into
the building the prep room was located in,”
he says. “That was a bit frustrating — but,
once in, I was able to get Bill’s skis ready for race day.” Lewis had been prepping the skis for many months using the time-proven WSB (wax, scrape,
brush) formula, as well as conducting speed trials to test for the fastest skis
and base structures. Now, in Sarajevo, he had an opportunity to really dial
in the details for the snow and course conditions Bill would be racing on.
Blake Lewis (left) with Doug Lewis and
Bill Johnson at the Sarajevo 1984 Games.