Age just a number on U.S. alpine team |

Age just a number on U.S. alpine team

Adam Boffey
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Steven Nyman, a member of the 2008 U.S. Alpine Ski Team from Provo UT, skis past a gate during a training run on Keystone's Star Fire run Thursday morning. Both men and women from the U.S. team will be training at Keystone and Copper Mountain the next few weeks. (Mark Fox/Summit Daily)

KEYSTONE, Colo. ” Erik Schlopy may be 35 years old and still trying to overcome a nagging knee injury, but the U.S. Ski Team veteran isn’t showing any signs of retirement.

“It’s just the way sports are going,” Schlopy said after a giant slalom training session Thursday at Keystone.

“The sports science and training is so much better, but I think more than anything, athletes are starting to realize life’s good if you’re making a living having fun and going fast. Why would you want to stop doing that?”

Schlopy, a three-time Olympian who’s still looking for his first World Cup victory, got hurt last December and was kept off the slopes longer than expected.

“I shut the doors on the season because I had so much pain I couldn’t ski,” Schlopy said.

“I thought it would be six-to-10 weeks, but it didn’t heal. I went to New Zealand in August and still couldn’t ski gates.”

Things started to improve for Schlopy when he got to Solden, Austria, to prepare for the World Cup GS opener, which took place Oct. 28.

He was able to gate train in Austria and he got a start in the race by virtue of his place among the top 60 skiers in the world (he’s No. 23).

Schlopy didn’t qualify for a second run, but being back in the mix was the most important thing on that day.

(American Ted Ligety, who’s not currently training with the team at Keystone, took second place).

“(Schlopy’s) still down a little bit on volume for the year and still a little behind the other guys,” said World Cup GS coach Greg Needell.

“But by the end of this camp, he should be caught up and ready to go.”

Needell spoke to the importance of having Schlopy back on the hill, even if he’s not at the top of his game quite yet.

“Everyone’s happy he’s around,” Needell said.

“He brings so much experience and knowledge that it’s like having another coach on staff. It’s great for the guys because they have someone to go to that has a little different lifestyle than they do.”

“I’m a dad now,” Schlopy explained. “I kept telling the younger guys stories about my daughter but then I was like, ‘I don’t know if these guys want to hear about this stuff.'”

Thursday’s U.S. Ski Team media day, which took place at the base of Star Fire, was inevitably buzzing with questions about Bode Miller.

Most of the technical skiers on hand downplayed Miller’s decision to leave the U.S. Ski Team and compete independently under former U.S. team coach John McBride.

“I don’t think (Bode’s absence from the team) will have much of an effect on us,” Tim Jitloff said.

“Ted (Ligety) proved in Solden that he’s one of the fastest in the world. To be honest with you, our team is super-tight.”

Jitloff is automatically qualified for all the World Cup GS starts after winning the NorAm GS title last season, so he’ll still be seeing Miller from time to time.

“We wish Bode well,” said the 22-year-old Jitloff.

“I can’t deny that he’s opened a lot of doors for me as a young athlete. He got a lot of people excited about our sport.”

Jake Zamansky, who’s returning from a knee injury like Schlopy, said he valued the opportunity to train alongside Miller prior to the season-opener last month.

“He’s one of the fastest guys in the world,” Zamansky said.

“It’s always good to have that on the hill whether he’s American or from a foreign team.

You always want to train with better guys.”

Zamansky said he hasn’t personally detected animosity on Miller’s part.

“There’s nothing toward the athletes and I haven’t asked him about anything toward the organization,” Zamansky said. “He wants to ski race ” that’s his m.o.”

Miller, Schlopy and Jitloff will join Ligety, Dane Spencer and Jimmy Cochran as GS starters at the Beaver Creek Birds of Prey race on Dec. 2.

The U.S. also has one more spot that’s up for grabs.

“In training, everyone’s actually in a tight block,” Needell said. “Whereas in the past, there’s been a few guys who have been out ahead quite a bit.”

“It’s very competitive,” echoed Jitloff. “Every run we’re coming down and looking at the times we’re getting and who’s doing well and we’re pushing each other to do better. It’s really good ” I’m glad we have that.”

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