Thursday, January 3, 2019

Austrian Memories

With my Fulbright starting in Innsbruck in a couple of weeks, I have been thinking a bit about my first trip to Austria in 2001.

For that trip, the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games (SLOC) asked me to go to the 2001 Alpine World Championships in St. Anton to observe logistics for the event, including weather.  I had already done this at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, so I initially begged off, but they were persistent.  After reading a quote about St. Anton being one of the best ski expert ski areas in Europe with a hedonistic nightlife, I figured I would go.

The trip started out on a low note as I injured my knee skiing the day prior to our departure and could barely walk on the plane or the first couple of days we were in Zurich meeting with MeteoSwiss (the Swiss National Weather Service).  Our first day in St. Anton, which was bluebird with deep powder, did not have any official activities planned.  I ended up working and meeting with the meteorological support team for the world championships while the others skied.

Subsequent days I was feeling better and got up on the courses and learned about the logistics and weather impacts.  This was a "tough assignment" involving skiing, watching races, and having a former U.S. ski team coach give you a colorful play-by-play of the events as they unfold.

On the morning of the Men's Super-G, we had pretty much learned all we could and decided to get up early and check out Lech, one of the ski areas in the Arlberg.  We got on the lift with an Austrian Ski Instructor who asked us who the big American was.  We said, "Daron Rahlves".  He replied, "Never heard of him."

The skiing was terrible.  It was foggy and the snow was subpar.  We decided we should go back and check out the Super-G, which turned out to be a great decision.  When Rahlves left the start house, Austrians were in first (Stephan Eberharter) and second (Hermann Maier) and positioned for a huge win on home snow.

Rahlves crossed the finish line with the best time by 8 one-hundredths of a second, resulting in two Americans jumping up and down and screaming "Never Heard of Him."  It's worth a look at the Eurosport coverage of the race.

It was a great win, but Jingoism aside, I've always admired the Austrian ski team and the many great skiers that they've produced.  The powerful Herman Maier was a huge favorite of mine.  Pick up a copy of his book The Race of My Life, which chronicles his comeback from a 2001 motorcycle accident, if you can find it reasonably priced somewhere online.  Although we will not attend in person, I'm very much looking forward to watching the Hahnenkamm downhill in Austria.  If you are wondering, the last non European to win it was Daron Rahlves on a shortened course in 2003.  Rahlves is still getting after it.

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