Glenwood’s McKennis joins Vonn and Mancuso on downhill squad
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
WHISTLER, British Columbia – Lindsey Vonn required 45 World Cup races before she managed a top-10 finish. Alice McKennis needed only three.
No wonder McKennis, of Glenwood Springs, was selected alongside Alpine veterans Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Stacey Cook to start for the U.S. in Wednesday’s Olympic downhill.
“You can see when she skis she wants it,” Vonn said. “She wants to go fast and she likes the speed, but she’s also really calm and smooth on her skis.”
McKennis’ breakthrough came with a 10th-place finish at the annual downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December. With seven wins in Lake Louise, Vonn knows the Alberta course better than most.
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“She just has a really nice touch on the snow and you can’t be fast in Lake Louise without it, and she definitely has it,” Vonn said.
McKennis went one spot better in the final downhill before the Vancouver Games, placing ninth in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
“Coming into the World Cup season I had really just hoped to score points and top 30s – hopefully top 20 or so,” McKennis said. “To do as well as I’ve been doing is pretty surprising but really exciting at the same time.”
At 20, McKennis is the youngest member of the U.S. Alpine squad at the games – male or female. Her former coach, Casey Puckett of Old Snowmass, is still competing – in the new skiercross event.
Under normal conditions, McKennis would have had to secure her downhill spot in the training runs, but a long streak of bad weather meant that the women got in only one official training session. U.S. women’s head coach Jim Tracy left two older teammates that McKennis often rooms with – Chelsea Marshall and Leanne Smith – off the downhill team.
“We just went back to the base results from the season, and Alice clearly has more results than any of the others,” Tracy said. “That’s something that everyone can look at and say, ‘I can do this too.’ If you work hard on the right things, then good things can happen.”
Good things haven’t always happened to McKennis. When she was 5, her mother, Jill, was killed in a car accident.
McKennis and her older sister, Kendra, formed a tight bond with their father, Greg, who taught McKennis to ski when she was 2. The sisters helped out on the family’s ranch near New Castle, Colo., about 50 miles northwest of Aspen.
At one point, McKennis nearly gave up ski racing for another Olympic sport – equestrian. She competed at the regional level until she was 14. The accident that killed her mother happened while driving to a horse show in Wyoming.
McKennis bounced around from one ski club to another as a kid, and brushed up against Vonn in Vail, when she was 9 and Vonn was already on her way toward stardom at 14.
“I remember watching her ski and being in awe of her. That was pretty cool,” McKennis said.
Vonn doesn’t remember McKennis from back then, but McKennis reminded Vonn when the pair became teammates again on the World Cup circuit this season.
“It’s weird how things come around like that,” Vonn said. “That’s how I was with Picabo (Street). I guess that’s the ultimate goal, to inspire kids to want to be ski racers and to have them reach this level like Alice is. It just shows you that anything is possible.
“It’s cool to see and it’s cool to see her learning a lot as the season has gone on. And she’s a great girl, always smiling, so it’s good to have her on the team.”
Being so close to Vonn can only help.
“She’s a phenomenal skier, so I always watch her video,” McKennis said. “And she carries herself really well off the hill as well. She takes the time to sign autographs for everyone and is really a good person. I try to learn a lot from her.”
Some of the other Americans were taken aback by how quickly McKennis progressed.
“She has one of the best attitudes I’ve ever seen in the sport – better than anyone that has come around for a long time – and I think she’s helped me a lot because she really is so good about seeing the positive in everything, and only thinking what she wants to think. She doesn’t get affected by anyone else,” Cook said.
“It’s great to have a team that pushes each other, and she’s definitely been that little kick in the butt for us.”
McKennis finished fourth in the downhill at last season’s world junior championships and won the lower-level NorAm titles in downhill and super G, clinching World Cup starting spots in those disciplines for this season. Still, she began the season on the U.S. squad’s “C” team, seemingly destined for the second-tier Europa Cup circuit.
Now she’s about to make her Olympic debut.
On Tuesday morning, McKennis opened her door at the team condo to discover a package sent from New Castle and her official hometown of Glenwood Springs.
It contained a banner filled with signatures of well-wishers and photos from the local elementary school.
“I don’t know how many people signed it. But a lot – there’s not much room left on the banner,” she said. “They took pictures of all the grades holding up signs saying ‘Go Alice!’ and ‘Ski fast!’ and those types of things. My community is really excited about me being up here.”
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