Klug to carry WTC flag in the Olympics | AspenTimes.com

Klug to carry WTC flag in the Olympics

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Sportswriter

As a champion snowboarder – as well as a liver transplant recipient – Aspen’s Chris Klug knew he’d be carrying a symbolic torch at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

As it turns out, Klug, the first transplant patient to become an Olympian, will also be carrying a symbolic flag.

Klug learned Thursday that he will carry the tattered World Trade Center flag that was recovered from the rubble of the Sept. 11 attacks in tonight’s opening ceremonies of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. His teammates on the U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team chose him.

In the flag honor guard, Klug, 29, will be joined by seven other U.S. athletes who were chosen by their peers, as well as police officers and firefighters. Three billion viewers worldwide are expected to tune in.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Klug said from Salt Lake City. “I’m so proud to be a part of it. My teammates selected me, and I was just overwhelmed by that. I thought that was very special.

“I think it’s going to be very powerful for the Olympians carrying the flag and for Americans everywhere.”

On Thursday, Klug was up at 2 a.m. to appear on several morning TV shows across the nation to promote the organ-donor issue.

In July 2000, Klug underwent six-hours of transplant surgery to help combat a rare liver disease known as PCS. The same disease killed NFL Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton.

But six months later, Klug won a World Cup race, and now, 18 months later, he’s back at his second Olympics, gunning for gold in the only alpine snowboarding event, parallel giant slalom.

“It’s been a big goal of mine to help with the life-saving donor message,” he said. “We got up early to make all the East Coast shows live, trying to promote the idea of people sharing their decision about organ donations with their loved ones.

“And because of what I’ve been through, I’m happy to be a part of it and try to make a difference.”

Ironically, the qualifying day for the snowboarding event is Feb. 14, which is also National Organ Donor Awareness Day. The finals are set for Feb. 15.

Klug was home last weekend for Aspen’s Olympic torch celebration before traveling to Sun Valley, Idaho, to train with the U.S. team on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We had a great couple days,” Klug said. “I hadn’t been to Sun Valley in 18 years, and the last time I was there, it was my second year snowboarding. I showed up with my new Christmas presents, a Burton Performer and moon boots, and they said, ‘There’s no way you’re riding that skiboard on this mountain.’ So I had to go back and rent some skis to go up with my family.”

Klug flew to Salt Lake on Wednesday night to make the TV appearances early Thursday.

“It’s been busy. I sorta dedicated [Thursday] to doing a lot of media stuff so I can take it easy and enjoy the next couple days,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy the opening ceremonies and hopefully have a good time at the athletes village, meeting the other athletes. Then we head to Park City on February 9 and train the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th, with the races on the 14th and 15th.

“I can’t wait,” he continued. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about and preparing for since I came up short in Nagano.”

At the 1998 Olympics, Klug was the top American in his event, finishing in sixth place.

Klug and the U.S. Snowboard Team checked into the games last week, prior to the arrival of most athletes. The riders took the opportunity to train on the Olympic venue at Park City, mostly by themselves.

“We got that training in early, and I think it’s going to be a huge home-field advantage,” he said. “It’s a nice mix of natural and man-made snow – it’s Aspen Mountain super-grip ego snow – you can get away with anything and rail the heck out of your snowboard.

“I know the hill as well as any I’ve raced on,” he added. “And hopefully I can bring the gold home and we’ll have another party in Aspen.”

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