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The Son Finally Rises
William Oscar Johnson
February 21, 1994
At peace with his father and with himself, Tommy Moe won a gold in the downhill
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February 21, 1994

The Son Finally Rises

At peace with his father and with himself, Tommy Moe won a gold in the downhill

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He quickly got serious about ski racing. In the 1987 world junior championships, held in Norway, 17-year-old Tommy took a silver in the downhill. In 1988 he came in fourth in the world junior downhill, but his reputation as skiing's new golden boy was growing. In '89 the world junior championships were held on Mount Alyeska. The locals were so proud of their home-state hero that they nearly suffocated Tommy with pressure. Full-page ads were purchased by the race sponsors in local papers exhorting fans to COME SEE TOMMY MOE TAKE ON THE WORLD! Tommy finished fifth in the downhill—a good result under normal conditions, but a failure for a golden boy caught in the spotlight. Yet he rallied, streaking to first place in the Super G and winning another gold in the combined events.

Moe moved up the following year to ski racing's major league, the World Cup circuit, and his life quickly became a dreary series of also-ran races, where he rarely finished even in the top 10. Through it all Tom Sr. rode him hard. After an ugly performance at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, where Tommy finished 20th, 28th and 18th, respectively, in the downhill, Super G and combined, Tom Sr. recalls, "I looked at him in the finish area, and he had tears in his eyes. And then he skied away from me, as if he had let me down. I had been pushing him so hard that instead of his being mad and let down when he finished badly, I was the one being mad and let down. My wife told me, 'You should stop pushing him. You should be happy you have a son who is even at the Olympics. Most people never have that.' That kind of shocked me."

After '92, says Tommy, "I hit rock bottom. I was supposed to be the next superstar, but I was almost a total burnout."

He decided to take charge of his career, dumping the ski team's plan that he train exclusively for speed events, the downhill and Super G, and ignore all work in the technical events, the giant slalom and slalom. His father approved of the new strategy, but things did not go smoothly at first, and midway in the 1992-93 season Tommy pulled out and went home for 10 days. "I needed my dad," he says.

Father and son went back-country skiing in deep, deep powder at Hatcher Pass and camped for a night in a winter cabin so cold, as Tommy recalls, that his toes froze and the nails turned black. An old Anchorage friend, Jack Vanberg, thinks the visit home was just what Moe needed. "Tommy just relaxed," he says. "He jumped on a snowboard for the first time. He just did stuff with his dad."

Until that hiatus Moe's best World Cup finish during the '93 season had been 12th. Returning to the tour, he went to Japan in February for the FIS World Championships downhill and skied to an encouraging fifth place, only .11 of a second out of the medals. In March at Whistler Mountain near Vancouver, Moe copped a second-place finish, his best in World Cup competition. In the early going this season he racked up a third in the downhill, a third in the Super G and five other top-10 finishes. He was still without a victory, but his confidence was restored, and as the Lillehammer Games approached, he felt ready to fulfill his promise.

Last Saturday, Moe marched in the opening ceremonies with Gerety and then dined with her in the Olympic Village. "She helps me to prepare mentally," says Moe. "She said, 'Just go for it. Ski the best you can.' And that is what I did. I kept it simple, focused on skiing, not on winning, not on where I'd place. I remembered to breathe—sometimes I don't."

On Sunday, the day of the downhill, Kvitfjell was bright, but the course was frozen so hard that in some places the snow was grippy on the ski bottoms. Aamodt would be seventh in line down the mountain, followed by Moe. Though only 22, Aamodt is already a proven World Cup star with a gold in the Super G and a bronze in the giant slalom from Albertville, and three victories this season. As the host country's hope for gold in Alpine skiing, he was under considerable pressure. After his run Aamodt led the field by .3 of a second. "I had a great feeling with all the 30,000 people screaming," he said later. "I didn't know if my time would hold up. There were still a lot of good guys up there. The answer came very quickly—after about two minutes."

That was roughly how long it took Moe to fly from top to bottom in a beautifully controlled run on which he held tucks and thrust his hands forward in perfect form at places where others had stood up and flailed their arms. "I didn't know how fast I was going," he said later, "but it felt slow because the snow was so cold. When I looked up and saw Number 1, I was really surprised because I'm used to seeing Number 2 or 3. Or 14."

No more. Moe will be the reigning Olympic downhill gold medalist for the next four years. The bronze was taken by Ed Podivinsky, 23, an easygoing Canadian. AJ Kitt, who had ruled U.S. downhill skiing for the past three years, finished a sad 17th. But Moe's gold was more than enough to lift the spirits of American ski racers and their coaches.

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