Skier eyes top speed, medal in Vancouver
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a three-part series that will introduce readers to Stacey Cook, a U.S. Olympic downhill skier and native of Truckee, and her parents Dean and Sharon Cook. Part one of this series will examine Stacey’s life as an Olympic skier. The second part of the series will chronicle the adventures of Dean and Sharon as they attempt to procure tickets to watch Stacey ski in British Columbia. The final installment will highlight Stacey’s stay in the Olympic Village and her thoughts on her race.
Stacey Cook is one of the finest skiers in the world. She is a member of the U.S. Olympic women’s ski team.
An adventure of a lifetime will begin for her tonight as she walks with the rest of Team USA in the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremonies in Vancouver, B.C.
Cook’s race, the women’s downhill, is scheduled for next Wednesday. However, the 25-year-old Truckee native nearly saw her Olympic dreams derailed on Thursday when she crashed during a practice run.
According to an Associated Press report, Cook slammed into a safety net at full speed after she had difficulty landing a jump on the course’s upper section. After standing up without help, Cook was flown by helicopter to a nearby clinic for tests.
She was later released with pain and stiffness, but no major injuries. She could resume training for Wednesday’s race as early as today.
The numbers surrounding the Olympic women’s downhill are staggering, if not altogether terrifying. Cook and the rest of her downhill competitors will race down a vertical drop at Whistler Mountain of approximately 700 meters. All Olympic and World Cup downhills must have a drop of 500 to 800 meters.
Reaching speeds up to 70-75 mph, the racers will finish their run in a time of 1:40 to two minutes. The race is won and lost by hundredths of a second.
Standing in the starting gate, waiting for her race to begin, Cook, like all downhill skiers, wrestles with a witches’ brew of confidence, nerves, and fear.
“I have been working on keeping my nerves down,” Cook said. “Of course there will always be fear, but I am becoming better at facing fear with confidence and not letting it overtake my body.”
Cook is skiing on the fine line that separates winning from skiing out of control. Losing your aerodynamic tuck, missing the fall-line for an instant, or swinging too wide on a turn can cost her hundredths of a second — and a place on the podium.
Racing out of control can contribute to what downhill skiers cryptically and fatalistically refer to as a “yard sale.” A downhill racer’s fall, at 75 mph, often involves cartwheeling down the mountain, leaving skis, poles, helmet, and goggles in the skier’s wake — hence, a “yard sale.”
Cook was first introduced to skiing by her dad at age 4 — because, according to Cook, “there was really nothing else to do in the winter in Truckee.” The first signs of her talent became evident when the Northstar Racing Team offered her a scholarship. She won her first race at the age of 10.
As a member of the Olympic ski team, Cook trains around the world.
“In August we train in New Zealand, September we are in Chile, October on the glaciers in Austria, and November in Colorado,” Cook said. “And then we get into racing in early December. My best guess is that I travel about 75,000 miles a year.
“Oh, boy, I have been to New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Canada, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Sweden and Norway, but I am sure there are more.”
“The travel is the worst part of what I do for sure,” she added. “It wears you down, and I think the only place I ever cry anymore is in the airports. I don’t know why — they just make me so emotional, it’s terrible. I do love getting to see so many places, though.”