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One year on from his stunning, triple gold medal-winning performances at the Youth Olympic Games, USA alpine skier River Radamus reflects on his achievements with a huge amount of pride and a slight sense of fear.
“Right now if someone wrote a biography about me it would start and finish with ‘three-time Youth Olympic gold medallist’,” Radamus said. “It is something that is special to me and I will never forget it but I don’t want at the end of my career to have that be the defining moment of my career.”
It is a startlingly mature response to being US alpine skiing’s most successful Youth Olympian.
“Chasing the ghost of that event and pushing on to bigger and better is something that motivates me every day in the gym and on the hill,” he revealed. Despite his understandable caution, the 18-year-old cannot hide the excitement in his voice when he considers the impact those magical days in Norway have had on his life.
“It helped me earn another year on the US Ski Team. Being able to perform on big stages like that is what helps you acquire sponsorship and garner more support, because that is what we are all in ski racing for, to thrive on those big events,” said Radamus, who is the youngest in the US Ski Development Team. “Now I get to train with some really high-level skiers. Most of them are better than me I would say but they support me and just being able to be in that group has helped me step up a level.”
Competing in a mixture of fully-fledged senior and age-group competitions, the Vail native has, to date, already recorded six top-10 finishes this season across FIS (International Ski Federation) and university races and the Nor-Am Cup, a development tour managed by the FIS. It is all the more remarkable given that Radamus went in to the YOG ranked well outside the top-10 for his age group in all disciplines bar the slalom (the only race he failed to triumph in). This after the first half of a season in which he had suffered concussion, injured his ankle and, as he put it, “crashed a lot”.
“It felt like hitting the reset button,” Radamus said of arriving in Lillehammer 12 months ago. “I come from a little bit of a tradition of American ski racers that are big event performers. I have always found that the big events are where I ski best, where I throw down the best results. It is something I thrive on, the energy of all or nothing events,” he said.
It is a useful talent to possess. He is well aware that with such high profile success a target starts to grow on an athlete’s back. “I have got a lot more people gunning for me at every race. There is a little bit of a sense there are more eyes on me when I am kicking out of the start gate,” Radamus said. As such, the advice of his new teammates has become invaluable.
“This summer Steven Nyman (three-time Olympic downhill skier) was in the gym and we hadn’t really talked about our seasons that much but he told me how impressed he was by how I skied there (at the 2016 YOG), but he also told me not to stop pushing, that there is so much more that is possible in my career, that I can’t rest on my laurels,” recounted Radamus.
And just in case sentiments like those do not do the trick, the teenager still has his old friends ready and waiting to make sure his ski boots remain firmly on the mountain.
“They are always saying things like ‘well let’s see what the three-time Youth Olympic gold medallist has to say about that…’. They take me off a little bit,” Radamus said, with obvious delight.
Put it all together – the talent, the dedication, the humility, the simple love of the mountain (the man who was brought up in a ski resort is pretty sure he would “love it” if he could ski every day in summer too) and the big race appetite – and you have a fairly formidable package. For the racer himself, it was the first taste of Olympic competition and glory 12 months ago that gave him the most crucial ingredient of all: belief.
“I think the one thing the YOG did for me last year was make me see that this might just be possible,” said Radamus. “This dream of being a World Cup skier and maybe a true Olympic skier may be attainable.”