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Snow Job
Rick Reilly
March 27, 1995
For U.S. skier AJ Kitt, finishing first in a World Cup downhill is not the same as winning it
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March 27, 1995

Snow Job

For U.S. skier AJ Kitt, finishing first in a World Cup downhill is not the same as winning it

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AJ Kitt has lost a World Cup downhill race to a shovel. And he has lost to a cold front. But when he lost to a fax machine, it hurt.

This is how much sense skiing makes right now: On March 5, Kitt won a World Cup downhill in Aspen, Colo., then had it taken away three days later—in Norway.

So what else is new? Of his four lifetime World Cup downhill wins, three have been overturned. To give you an idea, Franz Klammer won 25 World Cup downhills and it only happened to him once. Kitt is either stuck in his own Groundhog Day, or something stinks here.

Three years ago Kitt was ahead at Val d'Is�re, France, until a storm came up and officials canceled the race after the first 22 skiers had made their runs. Two years ago, on a blue-sky day in Aspen, Kitt led a race by .83 of a second, which in the downhill is like winning the Iditarod when the next sled's dogs haven't even been born yet. But midway through the Aspen competition, a rut developed near a gate. An Austrian skier hurt his knee when his ski caught in the rut, which caused some European race officials to begin digging at the rut with a shovel and muttering something nobody could understand but that was believed to be, "You want rut? We'll give you rut!" It was decided that the new, improved rut was big enough to cause more injuries and that the race should not count, which is sort of like canceling the Super Bowl in the fourth quarter because the backup punter slipped on a divot.

Poor AJ. His career caught an edge after that, and only recently has he shown signs of coming out of his slump—like three weeks ago at Aspen, where he led the race by .58 of a second, which is like leading by the length of a Ken Burns documentary. True, a snowstorm came up after only 31 of 68 skiers had finished, forcing the race to be stopped, and, true, it was hard for the competitors to see. But since the best skiers go first in the downhill, those 31 were arguably the best 31 in the world. In fact, it's rare when anybody outside the top-15 seeds wins. The last few skiers who came down were finishing three and four seconds behind Kitt. So the on-site jury, consisting of four Alpine ski officials (two European, one U.S. and one Canadian), ruled unanimously that the race was official. Kitt had Won. Lucy had finally held the ball long enough for Charlie Brown to kick it.

At the postrace press conference, Kitt, of Boulder, Colo., teared up in front of his parents and his wife. They knew what he had been through. When he accepted the trophy, he held it tight.

But then, on March 8, after his warmup run for the downhill in Kvitfjell, Norway, he saw that sick look on everyone's face again. "It's kind of like when somebody pukes in a room," Kitt says. "Nobody has to tell you."

The International Skiing Federation (FIS), a 17-member board of carbon-dated fossils based almost entirely in Europe, each of them voting by fax, overturned the Aspen jury's decision. Uh, Mr. Nicklaus, you know how you won the Masters on Sunday? Well, the boys in Gdansk have decided you didn't. Where are you hiding the green jacket?

Kitt was so dizzy with rage that he talked of retiring. Aspen Skiing Co. was so disgusted it talked of pulling its mountain out of World Cup racing altogether. And Tom Anderson, the chief of race in Aspen that day, called the FIS "a corrupt, ego-driven mafioso machine."

All of which raises some questions.

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