When people ask me about favorite memories from my ski racing career, the first thing that usually pops into my mind is the
Opening Ceremony at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games.
It was my first time on such a grand stage. I was wide-eyed and
overwhelmed, and despite the itchy wool skirt and sub-zero temperatures, thrilled beyond words. There is no doubt it was powerful, in every way.
But I get a twinge saying it, as if it’s just the easy answer, the one
so obvious it requires no further explanation. And it feels like a bit
of a cheap shot to the incredible athletes who, for whatever reason, did not make the Olympic team. I am talking about the athletes
who are every bit as talented and hardworking as athletes who
made the team, but had bad luck, bad breaks or just bad timing. I
am talking about the ones whose stories you don’t hear until much
later, if ever: certainly the second half of the Sarajevo 1984 team
tragically and famously left home, most of whom quit the sport
abruptly in frustration and disappointment; the unheralded athletes
who, like Lindsey Vonn, gave up their rightful spots to make room
for healthier up and comers and who, unlike Vonn, got no public
recognition for their nobility; the Shiffrinesque wunderkinds who
drove or got driven so hard so young that they were all burned out
before their primes; the vibrantly independent Warner Nickerson
who undertook a Herculean, solo quest (why the U.S. Ski Team
actively shunned him remains a maddening mystery) and came
agonizingly close to achieving his dream. [Ed. Note: See Nickerson’s point of view in “More Cowbell” in this issue.] Somehow, referring back to the Olympics as a marquee memory discounts their
experiences, which feels like an injustice to their talent and efforts.
The prominence of that one memory is also, I now realize, a mis-
representation. Only recently, in the run-up to these Olympics, it
occurred to me that perhaps the only reason the Calgary mem-
ory is so clear is that it is the most asked about, and the most
replayed. It is built up, reinforced and overblown by the grandly
booming Olympic theme music and every misty commercial about
the Olympic dream. I relive the memory daily for a few weeks ev-
ery four years — every time a youngster wants to know what it felt
like to be there, every time an adult wants to know what it took to
get there, and every time the typically plodding path of an Olym-
pian is captured, compressed and glorified into an epic onscreen
journey. To be sure, the stories are impressive, but some of the
very best never get told. If you don’t make the Olympics, never get
that five-circle stamp of recognition by the masses, you never get
that every-four-year payback to relive your journey, however epic.
In reality my second most vivid memory would be a massive, mul-
tiple-way tie among a frozen gray day in Kaprun running 120th
in my first Europa Cup; a sub-zero night in an unheated cabin in
Maine; a finish-line team reprimand after a resounding failure and
countless similarly inglorious yet indelible moments. The recurring
themes of such memories are cold, commiseration, abysmal per-
formances and the humor that bound us like a lifeline.
But nobody records that. My physical archives consist of a few
awesome action shots and a stack of pictures that make it look
like all we did was smile atop a sunny course, eat fondue on Al-
pine sundecks and dress up to march in a big parade. My mental
archives, however, are way more realistic. They include my first
Junior Olympics, where the Eastern kids relived their shared tor-
ture of racing a downhill in minus 20 degrees in ____ (somewhere
in Maine), and my secretly wondering if I could have hacked it.
They include me proving my mettle many times over, and each
time reinforcing a bond. I revisit those memories every time the
kids I now coach refer to their state championship GS race four
years (nearly a third of their lives) ago, when they endured a day of
wind-whipped, goggle-adhering precipitation that was too cold to
be rain, yet too wet to be snow. Now, no matter how bad the situa-
tion, they find shared strength in a simple statement. “We’ll always
have _____!” (a certain place in N.H.).
Watching the fabric of these kids’ memories get woven, and the
starring role that unheralded moments play in the big picture, reminds me of Phil Mahre’s reflections while atop the Olympic podium in 1984. He thought about everyone who had a part in his victory, from fans and family, to coaches, teammates and ski tuners,
and realized a profound truth about all the things it takes to get to
the top. “It wasn’t my moment anymore,” he said. “It was America’s
moment.” And it was made possible by the people who lived with
him through all the vivid, unrecorded memories along the way.
A former teammate, who is a key player in my mental archives,
once floored me with an off-handed comment indicating that as
a non-Olympian her experience was something less than mine.
When we former teammates — from Olympics, Junior Olympics,
state championships or home ski clubs — get together, we rarely
reflect on victories, ceremonies and post card moments. More often we recall the times that we got lost, found ways to kill downtime,
messed up badly or somehow conquered the miserable, wretched,
trying conditions together. They may not be the Opening Ceremony but these are the moments that remind us we are indeed up
for any challenge around the corner. These are the memories that
make our journeys real.
Gold Mine By Edie Thys Morgan