INNSBRUCK, Jan 16 - The U.S. alpine skiers at the Innsbruck 2012 Youth Olympic Games returned to hallowed grounds in U.S. Alpine Ski Team history. The Youth Olympic downhill is located on Patscherkofel mountain, the site of the men’s alpine speed events of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympic Games. The United States won its first medals in men’s alpine skiing when Billy Kidd and Jimmy Heuga won Silver and Bronze at the 1964 Games.
Youth Olympian Alex Leever (Vail, CO) skied everyday with Heuga’s son, Winston, when the two of them were not yet old enough to join the local ski racing club. Leever knew Jimmy Heuga as a father, rather than an Olympian. Still, Leever understands the rich US alpine tradition that he is now a part of.
“There’s been a lot of great skiers come up through US skiing,” Leever said. “They all started somewhere. I think it’s really cool to represent that. I just maybe think that I could be the next one.”
Youth Olympian Julia Mueller-Ristine (Aspen, CO) looks up to a more recent U.S. alpine Olympian. Although her interaction with three-time Olympic medallist Julia Mancuso has been limited to autographs thus far, Mueller-Ristine dreams of chatting with her top role model.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association brings in current U.S. team members and past Olympians to serve as mentors at its junior camps. U.S. Olympians have won 39 medals in alpine skiing.
“I can see how they were when they were younger and what they achieved when they were older,” Mueller-Ristine said. “That really motivates me to become the best that I can be so I can somehow follow in their footsteps.”
Together, Leever and Mueller-Ristine comprise the US Alpine Ski Team at the Youth Olympic Games. But to continue to represent the United States at the international level, the two skiers must battle with a host of other developing athletes from the US.
“These kids love to play the game,” Youth Olympic Team Coach Peter Lang said. “Sometimes one guy is on top and sometimes the other guy is on top, and this is the way it’s always been.”