A champion and a hero

I wrote this 3 years ago after alpine skier Ted Ligety won 3 gold medals at the FIS World Alpine Championships …Ted Ligety face shot

Ted Ligety skied into the history books today. After winning the giant slalom at the 2013 World Alpine Championships in Schladming, Austria, he became the first man in 45 years to win three gold medals at one world championship. Earlier this week, he won the super G and super combined races — events that he has never won on the World Cup circuit.

Ligety now owns 5 world championship medals (bronze in GS in 2009 and gold in GS in 2011) — a record he shares with U.S. teammates Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, and Bode Miller. He’s also the owner of one Olympic gold medal from 2006 in the “old style” combined (where skiers ran one downhill and two runs of slalom, not one run of each like they do in the new super combined).

The 28-year-old from Park City, Utah, is now in rare company. Only four other men have won three or more gold medals at one world championship, and they are the storied legends of ski racing: Emile Allais (France, 3 in 1937) and Stein Eriksen (Norway, 3 in 1954), Toni Sailer (Austria, 4 in 1956 and 3 in 1958), and Jean Claude Killy (France, 4 in 1968).

And the list goes on for Ligety. He is the first U.S. skier of either gender to win the GS medal twice at the world championships and the first to win three golds in one worlds.

“It’s been pretty surreal,” said Ligety after the GS today. “I knew I had good chances to medal in those other two events, but I didn’t think the chances were gold medal chances. It’s been by far my best week of ski racing in my life.”

But Ligety is much more than a champion on the racecourse. He’s the kind of guy you want your kids to grow up to be — and not just because he skis fast. He knows his role as a ski racer extends beyond the gates, and he’s respectful, thankful, gracious, well spoken, funny, smart, savvy, polite, and giving, and not necessarily in that order. Some examples that I’ve observed over the years:

Thanks, Mom & Dad! When he first made the U.S. Ski Team and began racing on the World Cup in November 2003, he taped a piece of paper that read “Mom & Dad” to the front of his helmet — real estate normally taken by an alpine skier’s primary sponsor (like Putnam Investments now). See the Jonathan Selkowitz photo from a December 2005 issue of Ski Racing (below).Ted Ligety Mom & Dad

It was a funny and heart-felt tribute to his parents who, like most parents in a ski racer’s formative years (which can last an indeterminate number of years), no doubt bought countless pairs of skis, bindings, boots, poles, goggles, helmets, shin and chin guards, speedsuits, warm jackets, warm-up pants (that are frequently lost), gloves and mittens (also frequently lost), long underwear, ski passes, lift tickets, and paid race fees. Like other ski-racing parents, they probably got up hours before dawn to make a lunch, then drove their young ski racer across a state or two to reach a race. They no doubt helped tune skis as well, carried coats down from the start, stood beside the course in rain, sleet, hail, snow, freezing cold snaps, and sometimes sun, and perhaps prayed (well, at least mom might have) that their little ski racer first and foremost would not get injured, and secondly, would have a good run. They hugged their ski racer with both smiles and tears. And then, while their exhausted ski racer slept, they drove home that night. While many ski racers take parental “butlering” for granted, Ligety did not.

Gracious and respectful, even in defeat. At the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Ligety was the defending gold medalist in combined (by then, the super combined) and a heavy favorite in GS, where he had already won World Cup races. But the Games didn’t go as planned. He finished fifth in super combined and ninth in GS. Others who had disappointing Olympics blew through the mixed zone (where athletes talk to the media) as if they were late for a train. Wearing a special green speedsuit that Spyder had created for Ligety as the defending gold medalist, he stood for hours in the mixed zone talking to the media — about his own mistakes and his teammate’s success. Of Andrew Weibrecht’s surprise Olympic bronze medal in super G in 2010 (while Ligety finished 19th), he said: “[Andrew’s] been so fast for so long, and his technique is rock solid. It’s actually been more of a surprise that he hasn’t been better earlier. I feel like today just shows what he’s capable of. He’s always had the potential to be this fast.”

Ligety has acted with similar respect when asked for out-of-competition interviews, replying quickly and returning calls at the appointed time.

Savvy businessman. While many athletes wait until after they have retired from their sport to start a business venture, Ligety began Shred just as his ski career was taking off. He wanted to look different on the racecourse — to stand out, he told Dave Peszek, former Uvex rep. And he thought retro 80s hot pink and neon green would do the trick. “I thought it was funny and something different,” said Ligety. When his contract with Uvex ran out in 2006, Ligety and friend Carlo Salmini (who owns Slytech, maker of protective body armor for skiers and snowboarders) started making neon-colored goggles. The name of the company? Ligety’s nickname, Shred — “because it rhymes with Ted, I get after it on skis, and I was fearless as a little kid,” he said. Shred also sells helmets with humorous names like “Toupee” and “Brain Bucket,” and they come in colors like Nastify Green and Crooked Blue.

He’s funny. About that green Spyder suit at the 2010 Olympics, Ligety said, “I think they looked on the Shred website and picked out the most prevalent colors. They missed the Nastify Green tone a little bit, but it’s close.” (See photo below.) Then he added: “It’s a little too Slovenian for my taste. But it’s cool. It’s neat to have something a little bit different.”

Ted Ligety green suit

Stands up for his and other skiers’ rights. When the FIS changed ski specs for giant slalom skis this season — making the skis straighter, with less sidecut “to enhance athlete safety and reduce risk of injury,” stated the federation — Ligety was one of the most outspoken athletes against the change, not because he feared the new ski design would impact his World Cup results. He thought that “the FIS should remove itself from equipment issues” and that the new rule would “turn back the clock on the evolution of this sport,” he wrote in his blog on tedligety.com. He also feared the impact the rule change would have on young ski racers, who don’t have the strength to muscle straighter skis into turns and who have learned to carve turns on the more shaped skis. When the FIS wouldn’t budge on its decision, Ligety set about learning how to ski the straighter GS sticks and has all but dominated GS this season. So there!

Never too busy or too tired for his U.S. fans. By the time the U.S. Alpine Championships roll around in late March, most of the U.S.’s top skiers are done for the season — both mentally and physically. And the championships are often held at far-flung ski resorts that are hours from the nearest airport (Whiteface Mountain near Lake Placid, N.Y., a couple hours north of Albany; Mammoth, Calif., three hours south of Reno; Alyeska, Alaska, an hour east of Anchorage). But not Ligety. No matter how tired he’s been, he’s competed in nationals every year but one for the past decade, winning three titles in the process.

He values his friends and gives back. In 2010, immediately after nationals, Ligety traveled to Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond, Vt., for the Thank God For Snowmaking Slalom. It was a fundraiser for the little ski area started by Mickey Cochran in 1962 for his four ski-racing children (all Olympians). The ski area has since become a non-profit community treasure, offering after-school and weekend ski programs for local kids. Ligety not only raced the 30-second flat slalom — with a fun pro jump built by his friend and USST teammate Jimmy Cochran — he also helped shovel snow the night before onto the T-bar track. Then after the race, Ligety spent hours signing autographs for the hundreds of kids who skipped school that day to meet their USST heroes. “It’s wholesome racing, that’s what’s so sweet about it,” said Ligety, after he signed autographs. “It’s fun to be out here with a bunch of people who are super into racing.” Bob Cochran, who competed in the 1972 Olympics and won the famed Hahnenkamm combined title, among other accolades, was impressed by Ligety’s performance, and not just in the gates. “Ted being here, going to nationals, it was hard conditions there, he’s had a long year,” said Cochran. “So he’s my new hero.”

A role model. As Edie Thys Morgan, who competed in two Olympics (1988 and 1992) and three World Championships (1987, 1989, and 1991) and is now the mother of two sons, wrote in her RacerEx blog, “In Ted We Trust:” “Hero worship is way overrated. But I make an exception with Ted Ligety. When you have the world’s best skier (today, and on many other days) who also runs a successful business, makes fun a priority, takes a stand on issues for the benefit of fellow athletes, literally shrugs off disappointing runs and takes time to fist-bump his pint-sized fans on the way up to the podium — when you find all that in one person, I’m good with having my kids worship at his altar.”

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Channeling Dr. Seuss this election season …

Every Trump Down in Trumpville
Liked elections a lot…
But the Yous, who lived elsewhere, really did NOT! The Yous hated elections! The whole election season! Do you have to ask why? Everyone knows the reason.

The candidates’ heads weren’t screwed on just right. And possibly too, their toupees were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
May have been that their hearts were too small.

Whatever the reason, their hearts or their ‘toups,’
The Yous stood through the election, hating the whole group. From Trump to Rubio to Carson and Cruz.
From Jeb Bush to Christie, and Hillary too.
None of them could stand them, not one single You.

But staring down from Vermont, with a big frumpy frown,
Was a gruff white-haired man who liked the Yous’ middle-class town. He promised to hold those Wall Streeters accountable.
And make the income and wealth gap less insurmountable.

“There are tough times ahead!” he emphatically said, “With the division of income, how are you Yous even fed?”

From up in his penthouse, his brain nervously spinning,
Trump growled, “I MUST find some way to stop Bernie from winning!”

For the Yous were starting to prod and to poke, And to consider Trump’s campaign quite a big joke.

“Why, months and months I’ve put up with it now!” “I MUST stop him from winning! But HOW?”

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!
“I know just what to do!” Trump sneered with a groan. “I’ll tell them about my small $1 million loan.”

And he chuckled, and clucked, “What a great Trumpy trick!” “With such a great story, how can they think I’m a dick?”

“I’ll buy this election. My fortune is great.”
“And I’ll be the financial king of these United States!” “I’ll deport everyone who came here too late.”
“It’ll be just like firing them, a mere act of fate.”

But the Yous laughed even harder at the great Trumpy Trump. And his polls started crashing way down to the dump. Without Bernie or Hillary lifting a finger.
Trump’s campaign would hopefully not linger.

As Trump looked around, at the Yous tall and small,
He realized that perhaps he had misjudged them all.
They don’t want a candidate who acts like a jerk.
They would rather have one who puts them back to work.

Tho it’s hard to imagine him negotiating with Merkel, Or facing the Syrians and Putin, that jerk-l.
The Yous were happy that Bernie had entered the race. For he truly wants to make the country a better place.

But as the calendar turns to 2016, and the election grows near, We realize that really our one greatest fear …
Is that the GOP might still elect that man Trump.
Who’s only one letter removed from a ‘rump.’





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‘Twas the Year Before the Election

‘Twas a year before the election, when all through the states,
Several candidates were blathering through all the debates.
The caucuses were all scheduled, from here to over there,
In hopes that eventually, someone would care.

With questions about health care, guns, and email,
We groaned as we watched them bluster and fail.
We had settled in for a long winter’s nap.
Because we’d already had too much of their crap.

When up here in Vermont, there arose such a clatter,
We turned on the TV to see what was the matter.

Away from FoxNews, we flew like a flash,
Clicked to CNBC, where they were talking about cash.
Then on to WCAX where we usually watch the news,
And continued to groan at that whacko Ted Cruz.

When what to our wondering eyes should appear,
But a gruff white-haired man, who gave us reason to cheer.
He was a politician who was no ordinary attorney.
A democratic socialist with the first name of Bernie.

With no love for Wall Street, and paid family care,
He really was a breath of fresh air.
Far different than Jeb Bush, Christie and Cruz.
From Trump, Rubio, Carson, and Hillary too.

Tho it’s hard to imagine him negotiating with Merkel,
Or facing the Syrians and Putin, that jerk-l.
It’s good that he’s challenging the bankers and Fed.
It helps give our economy a little more cred.

But in 2016, as the election grows near,
We realize that our one greatest fear …
Is that the GOP will choose that man Trump.
Who’s only one letter removed from a ‘rump.’

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How the Bankers Stole Christmas

I wrote this in December 2008. It feels like time to repost it.

* * *

Every You down in You-ville
Liked Christmas a lot.
And the Bankers did too — in New York and Charlotte.

The Bankers loved Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
You can ask why. Everyone knows the reason.
It was gift cards and sweaters and HD TVs
American Girl dolls and new shoes and Nintendo Wiis.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that everyone’s credit limit was too tall.

But, no matter the reason, the gift cards or shoes.
Weeks before Christmas, the Bankers began hating the Yous.
Staring down from their offices with nervous wan smiles
At the vacant shop windows and empty store aisles.
But every You down in You-ville couldn’t even afford lunch
From debt load and foreclosure and the big credit crunch.

It happened back in September,
If you will remember …

After years of prosperity, the economy tanked.
And now this austerity, it just really stank.
For 28 years, they’d been on a roll.
Now the Yous one by one were living on the dole.

“They’re not filling the stores!” the Bankers snarled with a sneer.
“We’ll never stay liquid. That much is clear.”
Then they growled as they watched the DOW Jones keep on dropping.
“We must find a way to keep them all shopping!”

But how?

Then the Bankers got an idea!
An awful idea
The Bankers got a wonderful awful idea!

“We know just what to do!” they laughed with great glee.
And they boarded their jets and flew to D.C.
And as they walked into Congress, they knew they’d receive
An unprecedented 700 billion dollar reprieve.

“Help us!” they said in a loud chorus of rings,
“For we are the most awesome of the financial kings!”

They reminded Congress, “to give us free rein!
To regulate us now would be completely insane.
We can bring the DOW back to its previous bubble
It’s just those stupid Yous who are in all this trouble.”

Then, they loaded their pockets with taxpayer money.
And flew off to where the climate was sunny.
They would eat escargot in the restaurants of Paris
And fly private jets to the beaches of Nevis.

But then as the Bankers sat down and gloated
Their overstuffed egos distended and bloated.
The Yous stood watch as the DOW continued down
And their homes were foreclosed in their very own town.

The Bank had taken their houses and credit.
For 28 years, the government had let it.
Secondary derivatives and subprime mortgage rates.
And credit default swaps had sealed the Yous’ fates.

All through the fall, throughout the long days
All the Yous felt robbed of their 401(k)s.
They sold all they could–a stock market unloading.
But as Christmas approached, there was a sense of foreboding.

With no credit to buy and no money to spend
The Yous would be starting a new Christmas trend.
They’d make and they’d bake and they’d learn to buy less
Until the new President could get them out of this mess.

For Christmas would come, just without cash
It would come without packaging that went in the trash.
It would come without presents, without ribbons and wrappings
Without tags and tinsel and trimmings and trappings.

Then the Yous thought of something really quite daring.
Maybe Christmas, they thought, is about more than sharing.
The holidays, perhaps, are more about caring.

As Christmas drew near, the Yous felt in good cheer
And focused their hopes on the New Year.

And hope, the Yous realized, the tall and the small,
Could be the very best Christmas present of all.

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As USA Swimming gears up for the 2015 world championships, meet Simone Manuel …


SANTA CLARA, CA - JUNE 20:  Simone Manuel dives in for the women's 100 meter freestyle final during the 2014 Arena Grand Prix of Santa Clara at the George F. Haines International Swim Center on June 20, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, CA – JUNE 20: Simone Manuel dives in for the women’s 100 meter freestyle final during the 2014 Arena Grand Prix of Santa Clara at the George F. Haines International Swim Center on June 20, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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Author Event at the Rutland Library – April 25, 2015

If you’d like to buy a signed copy of Deluge, I’ll be at the Rutland Library on Saturday, April 25, 2015, from 1-5 p.m. for an Author Event.


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2014-2015 is Banner Season for U.S. Skiers & Snowboarders


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Lindsey Vonn: On Her New Trophy Cabinet & Breaking More Records

Lindsey Vonn returned to world cup competition this season after almost two years away. And she’s ending the season having earned 8 more World Cup victories, a sixth world championship medal, and two more crystal globes to her collection. She now has 19—four large globes for the overall title and 15 smaller globes for overall wins in downhill, super-g, and combined.

So where does Vonn stash all this lead crystal, made by Bavarian glassblower, JOSKA Kristall?

Some of her globes are still in their hard-shell cases. But when Vonn returns to her home in Vail this spring, she will put all 19 into a new trophy cabinet that she had built over her fireplace.

“There’s place for 23 [crystal globes], so if I win more than that, I’ll have to build a new one,” she said by phone from Meribel, France, host to World Cup Finals this season. “I think that will suffice.”

Why will 23 suffice?

That’s just the way the display lights fit above her fireplace, she said. She could either commission a case for 17 or 23.

“I said 23, make it bigger.” She then added that the trophy case can be made even larger if needed.

With 19 overall titles, Vonn tied Ingemar Stenmark for the most won by one athlete. But until yesterday, she did not know that she was close to the alpine legend’s record. When she realized what would happen if she won the overall super-g title (in a tight race with Austrian Anna Fenninger), Vonn realized that it would be “a pretty amazing accomplishment to equal his record.”

“Ingemar is an amazing legend in our sport, someone I’ve always idolized,” she said. “He seems like someone who’s not attainable, all of his records are just not attainable. To be able to be at the same level as he is, in at least one of his many categories that he has the record, is pretty incredible.”

But asked if she is shooting for his other major record — 86 World Cup wins — Vonn demurred. To win 19 more World Cup races (she already has 67 wins), Vonn would need to win seven more next year, seven the year after, and six in the 2018 Olympic year (she has stated that she will compete at least through the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea).

Vonn, now age 30, won eight World Cups this year. The most she has ever won in one season is 12 (during winter 2011/2012), and she has won at least six every year since 2007/2008 (excluding 2014, which she sat out while recovering from two knee surgeries).

“Mathematically, it’s definitely possible,” she said. “But that’s a lot easier said than done.”

Vonn is trying to keep record-breaking out of her goal setting. She admitted that thinking about breaking Annemarie Moser-Proell’s record of 62 World Cup wins (the most of any woman until Vonn broke it in January) was one of her “faults.” She became aware of Moser-Proell’s record when she hit 55 wins in 2013 — shortly before her devastating crash at the 2013 world championships. (Incidentally, Moser-Proell only won 16 overall World Cup titles.)

“Going forward, I need to not think about those things and just focus on the skiing,” she said. “It always seems to bring good things.”

Like lots of glittery crystal to place over the fireplace.

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Mikaela Shiffrin: From one breakthrough to the next

“I’m hoping that each year is going to be a breakthrough year in some aspect of my skiing,” the Olympic slalom gold medalist said recently. “It just keeps coming at me.”


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Billy Mills on his 1964 Olympic gold medal in the 10,000

It was a real honor to interview Billy Mills. He spoke at length about his victory at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games in the 10,000 and the — often sad — journey that led to it.


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