American slalom specialist Nolan Kasper thought he would be packing his bags to head home at the end of January after a disappointing World Cup season where he had failed to qualify for a second run through the stop in Adelboden, Switzerland.
With his career on the line, Kasper rallied in a last-ditch effort at a FIS race in Kirchberg, Austria against a stacked field and earned a surprise starting spot in the Kitzbuehel World Cup, where to turned on the jets to finish 18th.
Instead of heading home to Vermont, now he’s heading to his second Winter Olympic Games, this time in Sochi, Russia.
“I had three good days in a row and then the next race wasn’t (as) good, but I’m just trying to get a little more consistent and hopefully see how that translates,” Kasper said after being named to the 2014 U.S. Olympic team. “We’ve got some time to get ready with training, so it should be good.”
In his sixth season with the U.S. Ski Team, Kasper has endured two hip surgeries and is just a little over a year out of ACL reconstruction following a training injury sustained in Val d’Isere, France. He’s had a rocky return to competition and is still working his way back to the form he had in 2011 when he won the Europa Cup slalom title and cracked the World Cup podium in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia by finishing second. He realizes it’s a goal that requires change.
“I’m most looking forward to racing slalom on a new hill and hopefully turning things around,” Kasper said about the Sochi Games.
In 2010, he was a long shot for the Olympics. Kasper had collected a bronze medal at the 2009 Junior World Championships in Garmisch, Germany, but posted his first World Cup results, finishing 27th and 24th in the Kitzbuehel and Schladming races, just days before the Olympic team was announced. His timing was clutch, and he matched his career-best result in the Vancouver Olympics by finishing 24th.
“Vancouver was so close that we went up for the Opening Ceremony, came back down and trained in Park City, and then went up for the race,” Kasper reflected. “I won’t get to be a part of that in Sochi.” This time around, Kasper completed his pre-Olympic prep with NorAms in Vermont followed by training and Europa Cup races in Germany and Bulgaria.
“It’s definitely going to be a totally different experience because it’s Russia, and with the security threats it’s going to be way more over the top than even Vancouver was. That was an eye-opener in terms of security and getting clearance to go in certain areas,” noted Kasper, before clarifying that he believes the Games will go off without serious incident.
“I’m not really concerned about anything. It’s just going to be more of a hassle getting in and out of places, but I’m not worried. My girlfriend might be worried, but I’m just going there to ski. We’re in and out pretty quickly and we’re right at the end (of the schedule), so they’ll have things dialed by then.”
The real question remains whether or not Kasper will have his skiing dialed in by the time he stands in the start gate on Feb. 22. But if history is any indication, this is a skier who performs when performance becomes the only option.
“I think after going through the first (Olympics), I realized that it was just another race,” added Kasper. “If anything, it’s easier than a World Cup because there are some guys who aren’t even there that normally would be starting in front of me.”
With an attitude like that, the only direction to move is up.