River delivers: Radamus talks about placing fourth in Beijing giant slalom
The 24-year-old has provided one of the best performances by a Vail athlete at Beijing Games thus far
VAIL — As the zebra-haired specimen coiled behind the gate, sitting in ninth place after the first run of the 2022 Winter Olympic giant slalom, it’s plausible to believe that Sara Radamus may have been searching for a tree to stand behind at the bottom of the hill as she watched her son prepare for the most important moment in his athletic life.
While most parents would understandably seek such a shelter to shield their anxiety from the public eye, the response to this pressure-packed moment would be a simple continuation of his mom’s and dad’s habit of distancing themselves from their son’s competitive sphere, an intentional decision on the part of Aldo and Sara going back to River’s soccer playing days as a goalie.
“I would never be able to see them, but they were watching all the time,” River recalled. “They always do that because they don’t want to be living vicariously through me or make me feel like they value me for my sport accolades or anything like that. They value me as a person first, and they care that I’m being kind and gracious and working hard and all those sort of things. They’ve really made an effort to show that they don’t care if I get first or last at the Olympics.”
Speaking with a seasoned perspective on his bittersweet fourth-place finish, a debut Olympic result laced with both exhilaration and “what-if’s,” River demonstrates the mature attitude, sturdy shoulders and right mind his parents were going for when they purposefully faded into the background during games and races. Even though his performance — an Olympic-best by any Vail athlete thus far in a community also boasting Mikaela Shiffrin — is worthy of praise, Radamus exudes the proper outlook his parents were instilling when they sipped coffee and quietly watched their son deflect soccer balls from the woods.
Even on the biggest stage, Radamus has never wavered from his focus to simply give it his all.
“Honestly, I’m really proud both of my preparation throughout the season and then how I executed,” he said. “I just wanted to do all of that work proud and leave everything out there, and that’s what I definitely did.”
Was he psyched to finish fourth? “Yeah, of course,” he replied. “I’d be lying if I told you I was completely thrilled, you know; it definitely stings knowing you came just short of what every kid dreams of. Overall, I’m really satisfied with my race.”
Always punctual and personal in his response to the media, Radamus remembered a January conversation with the Vail Daily about his belief that if he could string together two great runs at the Games, he had an outside chance at the podium. After executing in the first run amid poor visibility — he noted athletes could see only to the next gate — Radamus was pleased to sit in ninth.
“From a pressure standpoint, it’s a pretty good place to be between runs,” he said. “I love being the hunter, not the hunted.”
While the favorites shouldered the weight of bronze, silver and gold, Radamus, who has matured in the mental skills game as of late, fostered a proper head space as he waited to attack again.
“To me the moment that that demanded — being at the Olympics, skiing in your second run — it’s pressure but it’s also really exhilarating,” he said of what occupied his thoughts during the hours between the two runs.
“You only get that opportunity once. Something I just kept thinking about was, ‘I don’t want to look back at this run with any regret. I want to make sure that I’ve emptied the tanks, I’ve done justice to everyone that’s helped me get here and all the work I’ve put in to get here, and know I left everything out there. That’s just what I kept reiterating to myself, kept repeating in my head. Going out there, I really felt like I did that.”
With the skies clearing as the clock approached 10:45 p.m. mountain time on his birthday (of course, it was already Feb. 13 in China) — Radamus was able to enjoy a celebratory breakfast with his mom in the village earlier that day, something he said was “really special” — the now 24-year-old prepped himself to blitz through the “swingy” top pitch he considered his “power section.”
“That’s where I make my money, so I really attacked there,” he said of the initial gates, where he quickly built an early lead.
Happy with his skiing overall at the top, he admitted to making mistakes, too.
“Put it on my hip a couple of times, which wakes you up, but I know from watching and how I skied the first run that no one on that day was going to have a flawless run,” he said, noting that eventual silver medalist Zan Kranjec came the closest.
“Everybody was making mistakes just because of how demanding the whole atmosphere and conditions were. I was making mistakes and little bobbles, but I knew I had to keep charging because anything was possible in those conditions.”
After navigating the next pitch, he went into the meadow section, staying low and skiing “a little bit grindy.”
“I felt like I gave up time there on the first run, just giving a little bit too much respect when other guys were going a little bit cleaner, a little bit straighter,” he said. “So that was my mentality, just try to push there and not hold anything back.”
His only hiccup came in the final delay, where Radamus gave back a large portion of his then 0.46 second lead.
“I saw that in inspection,” he said of the problematic turn. “First run it was similar, but second run it swung up more so before and after, and it was a really tight entry.”
After analyzing it, Radamus determined he basically had to come through on the right foot and flip the skis immediately.
“I don’t think I gave it enough respect,” he retrospectively admitted. “I just tried to flip and commit, and that’s a spot where there’s a hole, and I knew there was a hole there, but I thought if I completely committed to that turn I could pull off the radius I needed to. And it just sort of bucked me.”
In reflecting on the moment, Radamus conveyed honesty but also what is becoming a trademark wisdom that belies his age.
“There’s always ‘would-of’s’ and ‘could-of’s,’ but I definitely will look back on that turn and think what could have been. Because I think if I had given it a little more respect I could have been standing on that podium,” he said.
“Ultimately though, I know that making aggression mistakes feels a heck of a lot better than making passive mistakes. I really was trying to push and charge, and it’s all part of it. The good skiing is because of the aggression, and the mistakes are part of the aggression, too. So, you live and die by it, but overall I’m super proud of the performance.”
Though not afforded the glittering pre-Games attention other stars have received, Radamus always had his sights on the same prize as the big names.
“You go to the Olympics to podium. You go to the Olympics to win,” he said.
“I never grew up dreaming of going to the Olympics and getting ninth place. I sort of went into it with a podium-or-nothing mentality. Fourth is great, but I was there to leave everything out there, and I knew if I connected a run I could be up there on that podium. I made mistakes, but those are mistakes I live with and I have no shame about, because they were part of a broader approach that I felt like I executed properly.”
Still, the off-the-hill memories he is taking from his first Olympics are reminiscent of a wide-eyed child asking his favorite ballplayer for an autograph.
“It’s been like little moments. I still get star struck,” he said of what he’s taking away from the social side of his time in Beijing. “I think that’s probably the coolest part of the Olympic experience. Witnessing so many other athletes with the same goal — trying to be the greatest at the sport and accomplish greatness this week — it’s a really palpable buzz.”
In the recreation area, where a spread of ping-pong, video games, chess and other games abound, River has encountered some surreal pairings. He walked into the virtual reality room, a pickle ball court-sized area where athletes can de-stress by shooting electronic paintballs at each other, only to find over half of the top 15 skiers in the world going at it like a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.
“It was just surreal. They’re all just playing video games, acting like kids again. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m never going to see this again,'” he said.
“Stuff like that really does make you feel like a kid again. You get that childish wonder seeing — all those people are just normal people as well, you know, but you get to share this experience with them, and a lot of those little moments will be memories that last a lifetime for me.”
Aldo and Sara’s decision to not helicopter over their prodigious son’s ski career was not due to a lack of Alpine acumen.
“I know they probably know more about the sport than I do, but it’s been a really concerted effort by them throughout all the sports I do,” River said of their parenting choice to lean toward simply watching versus intervening directly.
Even though they aren’t able to hang out much, Radamus has enjoyed having his mom at the Games, offering a big hug every time they walk by each other in the closed loop.
“I don’t go to her for skiing advice as such, but I go to her as a mom,” he said. “I go to her to celebrate how far we’ve made it and being able to share this experience with her is really special.”
While it is admittedly a literary ploy to surmise of her ceremonious drifting behind a tree as her son prepared for that second run, even River can confirm the deeper meaning behind it all.
“I don’t think she really feels a push to coach me or give me advice, because she almost doesn’t even care how I do here,” he said, expressing the firm foundation his parents were always trying to instill, namely that a medal doesn’t define their son like his actions and character do.
Sara is in China supporting William Flaherty, a Ski and Snowboard Club Vail athlete who finished 40th in the giant slalom. At a recent press conference, the two athletes sat next to each other as Flaherty credited River Radamus as an early inspiration. The feeling is mutual.
“I can honestly say that William is one of mine as well. The amount that he’s been through just to make it to this point is really astounding,” River said.
“I’m honored to know him and have been a little piece of his journey. I feel like we’ve sort of become family throughout this process; they’re really special kids. They’ve both been through a great deal.”
Radamus relished the moment of competing alongside Flaherty.
“I think those sorts of stories are really what make the Olympics special. It’s guys at the top that are racing for medals but it’s so much more than that,” he said. “There’s so much more to the sport than wins and losses, and I think he exemplifies that. I’m really proud of him and his effort as well.”
One final run
Radamus made his final preparations for Beijing on the supposedly kindred dry snow of Vail Mountain. In the end, with a slicker, icier substance surfacing on his second run, Radamus felt his performance benefited from a different aspect of his upbringing.
“I think my upbringing in Colorado — just freeskiing and enjoying the mountain and just putting myself in all sorts of different situations helped me to be able to adapt to situations better than most,” he said.
Athletes were not able to compete on the Beijing Alpine courses leading up to the Games, a fact Radamus believes played to his strengths.
“I really love opportunities where there are unknowns, because if I can adapt to them, I know I can beat people off the jump,” he said. “So going to see a blind course excites me because I think that that definitely levels the playing field to some degree.”
On Saturday, Radamus will join Paula Moltzan, Tommy Ford and possibly Shiffrin for the team parallel event.
“I’m really excited about our team,” he said. “We have a real chance to fight with the best there and come away with a medal if everything goes right. Overall I love that event. I think it’s a cool race for the fans, because it sort of contextualizes skiing and shows you who’s fast and who’s not. So I’m really excited for that one to happen and give my all one last time here.”