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Striking the Lode
Bruce Newman
January 27, 1988
There's money, big money, in them thar slopes—and rinks. All you have to do is win an Olympic gold medal or two
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January 27, 1988

Striking The Lode

There's money, big money, in them thar slopes—and rinks. All you have to do is win an Olympic gold medal or two

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Greene and Kidd were both determined not to blow it when they won their medals, but as Kidd says, "There's nothing more quickly forgotten than a sports hero." What made Kidd special was that he was the first American skiing hero (teammate Jimmie Heuga won the bronze medal in the same race that day) at a time when the country was starving for one. Kidd didn't mind boosting the sport if his net worth got a little jolt in return. "Billy said to me after the Olympics he wanted to make his million dollars and retire to Steamboat," says Chaffee. "He felt he had paid his dues and now he wanted what was owed him." The trick was figuring how best to exploit the value of his medal without making himself appear grasping—a neat trick. "Athletes have phenomenally short careers and they work bloody hard," says Greene, "so when you come to the end, the temptation is to sell out. But which is better? Making $50,000 a year for 50 years, or $250,000 for three years? If you take the fast money, everybody says you've sold out, you don't feel fulfilled, and they don't want you anymore."

Greene had a chance to win three gold medals in 1968, but fell during a downhill run a month before the Games and tore ligaments in her ankle. She settled for a silver in the slalom but won her gold medal run by 2.64 seconds, still the largest winning margin for a women's giant slalom in Olympic history. She came home a heroine and had dinner with the Queen of England, but as Greene herself admits 20 years later, the thing she is probably best known for in Canada is a series of TV commercials she did for Mars bars. "They were so bad," she says. "I'm sure most people thought, Oh God, we'd better buy Mars bars, or she's going to get fired." Whatever the reason, within a month Greene's commercials had lifted Mars from nowhere to fourth on Canada's candy sales charts.

"The philosophy I took," says Greene, "is you never sell your name. If you really believe in something and then people want to pay you for that, that's lovely. But if you fall for all the pitchmen and you sell your name, after a few years you're not going to have a name anymore."

Greene didn't want to sell her name, but that's not to say she didn't want to sell any names. When she and her husband, Al Raine, opened a hotel in Whistler, B.C., two years ago, they decided to name it Nancy Greene's Olympic Lodge and use the five-ring Olympic logo in their decor. Greene sent the Canadian Olympic Association notice of her plans, and in return received a warning that not only was she not to use the rings, but also she couldn't use the word Olympic in the name of her hotel. "They said you shouldn't commercialize the Olympics," Greene says, "and I said it's nothing but commercialized now. Every major corporation in the world has its name on the Olympics, why shouldn't a former Olympian?" So Greene appealed to the organizers of the Calgary Games and got permission to use the word "Olympic."

Just as Greene has chosen to make her stand at the foot of Whistler Mountain—where skiers know if they stay at her lodge they can count on skiing with a former Olympic champion—Billy Kidd decided to try to make his name synonymous with Steamboat Springs, Colo. Short, balding and bespectacled, Kidd hardly fit the image of the dashing ski hero, so he bought himself a Stetson cowboy hat—which he wears constantly, on and off the slopes—as a way of making himself more recognizable. Now when people come to Steamboat, they look for that hat so they can tell people they skied with Billy Kidd. "That hat is going to put my kids through college," Kidd says.

Kidd adopted a philosophy of making only long-term deals with companies that wanted him for endorsements. "I'm very particular about the products I'll represent," he says. "I've turned down a lot of deals for a lot of money because they would have meant short-term money but a long-term loss of credibility."

"Billy's been able to keep his name in front of the public all these years," says Steamboat public relations man Rod Hanna, "when other athletes whose accomplishments far exceeded his have faded from the scene."

That, of course, is what it's all about when you're going for the post-Olympic gold. "I don't think of this as a career," says Kidd, who, 24 years after the fact, is still probably better known than any skier on the U.S. team in Calgary. "It's just something I happened into that seems to keep perpetuating itself. To tell you the truth, when they ask for my occupation on passport applications, I still don't know what to put. What exactly is it I am?"

Sometimes it's not so much what you are as what you were that counts.

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