Downhiller Chad Fleischer announces retirement from U.S. Ski TeamChad Fleischer, the U.S. Ski Team’s most experienced veteran, announced his retirement September 29 in an e-mail message to family, friends, sponsors and coaches. The announcement came as a surprise to those at the U.S. Ski Team’s offices in Park City, who were expecting Fleischer to be starting World Cups in November.
“Everyone’s pretty much informed,” said Fleischer, reached via telephone September 30 at his ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “It’s something I’ve thought long and hard about, and it’s a huge weight off my shoulders. … I’ve accomplished a lot, and I want to express my thanks to all the fans, to all my teammates and coaches, and all the companies that really supported me.”
Fleischer had not competed since tearing all the ligaments and tendons in his knee in a downhill crash at Wengen, Switzerland, in January 2002 — just weeks before the Olympics in Salt Lake City. But he showed surprisingly strong form at the team’s month-long August camp in New Zealand, his first intensive on-snow training since the injury. Coaches and medical professionals alike said Fleischer had exceeded their expectations. ‘We couldn’t have asked for anything more than what he brought out down there’ said the men’s team physiologist, Forest Pecha.
The Vail native’s retirement even caught his coaches off-guard; they were expecting him to leave with the rest of the team for Stelvio, Italy, on October 6. His plane ticket had been purchased and a Spyder uniform was on the way. “I was getting ready, and I just realized the size of the commitment,” said Fleischer, who turns 32 in January. “It was too much. I normally have that edge, the fire that gets me ahead of 90 or 95 percent of my competition. That’s just not there.”
‘If he knows he’s lost the edge, it’s the right choice’ said men’s head speed coach John McBride. ‘If you’re unsure of yourself at that level, you’re not going to be competitive no matter how good you are.’ McBride was on a Gunnison River fishing trip at the time of Fleischer’s announcement, and learned of the hole in his team from the Denver Post. ‘That sucked’ said McBride, who spoke with Fleischer for more than an hour on the phone that night, while trying to convince the 10-year veteran to stick it out for one more race Lake Louise, with its relatively mild terrain. ‘The timing of it caught me off-guard’ said McBride. ‘I’m sure he’s had some sleepless nights about the decision, and one of the things in our conversation that struck home for me was when he said that once he’d made the decision, he felt happy.’
Fleischer pointed out that other opportunities – in television, for example – played a big part in his decision. While taking the full 2002-03 season off to rehabilitate his knee, Fleischer provided color commentary for the Outdoor Life Network’s weekly coverage of the alpine World Cup. This year, OLN plans to expand its coverage substantially, (see below) and has asked Fleischer, one of the more colorful World Cup skiers thanks to the snow leopard motif in his hair and on his helmet, to help host some shows. ‘We’re definitely looking at Chad’ said Wendy McCoy, OLN’s vice president of marketing.
Fleischer’s departure opens up some opportunities for other members of the team. The men’s team has a quota of five starters in downhill and seven in super G, so speed prospects Scott Macartney, Bryon Friedman and Wade Bishop will be gunning for start positions.
As for Fleischer, he says that skipping fall training will allow him to focus on other hobbies. “I’ll be doing a lot of hunting,” said Fleischer with a laugh. “That’s just a couple weeks away.
A career spanning two eras
Chad Fleischer was the bridge between two distinct eras for the men’s speed team. In Fleischer’s first World Cup, a 1993 downhill at Val d’Isere, Tommy Moe took a podium, and this summer he was training with World Cup heavyweights Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller. Had Fleischer raced another season, he might have found himself giving course reports to future stars like Jeremy Transue and Kevin Francis. Here are some of the highlights of Fleischer’s career:
Born: January 4, 1972. Columbus, Nebraska
Club: Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club/Ski Club Vail
First World Cup: December 12, 1993, Val d’Isere, 68th place
Downhill National Champion, 1996
Downhill National Champion, 1998
2nd place, World Cup Finals downhill, Sierra Nevada, Spain, 1999
4th place, World Championship super G, Beaver Creek, 1999