Olympic debut ‘bittersweet’ for Aspen’s Jake Zamansky
WHISTLER, B.C. – Two years ago at a World Cup stop here that served as an Olympic dress rehearsal, U.S. alpine officials told Aspen’s Jake Zamansky he wouldn’t get a race start.
“They basically told me I was done,” Zamansky said Tuesday.
Not just for that World Cup stop. Zamansky, as far as officials were concerned, was done with the U.S. Ski Team. Done chasing his Olympic dream. Done being a full-time ski racer.
In June of that year, the team dropped him from its roster after nine seasons.
Zamansky refused to accept that his career was finished. The national alpine program could pull its funding, could leave him to fend for himself when it came to travel expenses and training costs, but it couldn’t stop him from racing.
He nearly went bankrupt doing so, relying on sponsors and tapping out his own bank account last winter while traveling to compete throughout Europe and North America. After failing to finish in his first three World Cup starts, Zamansky considered that his coaches may have been right, then decided to stick things out. He ended up having the best season of his career.
On Tuesday, Zamansky was back at Whistler Creekside, the 28th racer on course in the men’s Olympic giant slalom.
He did not ski the race of his life.
He was 34th after picking his way through a difficult course set in the first run, and, had this been a World Cup race, he would have missed the top-30 cut for a second run.
At the Olympics, however, every first-run finisher gets a second turn on course, even the 102nd skier – Jamyang Namgial of India – whose first-run time of 1 minute, 46.77 seconds was nearly a half-minute off the pace of first-run leader and eventual gold medalist Carlo Janka of Switzerland.
Zamansky put down a much better run in the afternoon to wind up 31st overall, in 2:42.35.
“I pushed as hard as I could,” he said. “I gave it everything I had today, didn’t leave anything on the hill, and that’s what I wanted.”
Last week, Zamansky was training at the U.S. team’s facility in Park City, Utah, watching his teammates race live on his computer. When Andrew Weibrecht, 23, of Lake Placid, N.Y., claimed a surprise bronze behind silver medalist Bode Miller, Zamansky said the result was a reminder “that anything can happen” at the Olympics. (Weibrecht had never cracked a World Cup podium before.)
“For Andrew to pull through a result like he did was unbelievable, and you kind of hope on any given day you can do that,” he added. “We’re all capable of it, so it’s always there. Any time you leave the start gate there’s 30 guys that could get there.”
It wasn’t nerves that got the best of him Tuesday, Zamansky added.
“I would say that maybe I wasn’t nervous enough,” he said. “Sometimes, having nerves is better for you in the end. Today I was super relaxed and just tried to ski the best I could.”
For what it took to get here, Zamansky said he will leave these Winter Games proud of what he accomplished. The 10 family members and friends who showed up and cheered for him Tuesday – everyone from parents to cousins to his ex-girlfriend’s dad – certainly had his respect.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” he said. “Everything I’ve done in the last two years has kind of been a big accomplishment and to cap it off here at the Olympics is really special.”
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