Olympic Sprint Queen Lindh becomes Whitefish Ski Team Coach

WHITE FISH, Mont. (AP) – Forward, fast and strong.

Those are the only three words Olympic alpine skiing silver medalist Hilary Lindh said to herself as she stood on the starting grid at the 1997 World Championships in Sestriere, Italy. This mantra evolved throughout her career to keep all distractions at bay as she mentally prepared for each race. By repeating those three words in the hours leading up to the race, she focused on positive thoughts while filtering out distractions and worries about winning.

“It’s the death penalty in sport,” Lindh said. “Do that think, ‘What do you need to do to get this result? “”

Lindh won gold in that race in Italy over two decades ago, and she remembers that pivotal moment in her career, reports the Flathead Beacon. She crossed the finish line in first place, but before that she knew she had done everything she could to get there, and her results didn’t matter. Even though she had already competed in three Olympics, won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France, won three World Cup victories and a bronze medal at the World Championships, all of it in the downhill, she remembers a long journey to her victory in Italy after disappointing results at the start of the season.

Her then trainer Herwig Demschar, originally from Austria, who coached her for the US ski team from 1994 to 1997, says it was also one of the most memorable and satisfying moments of his career.

Although Lindh didn’t know it at the time, it was the last season of his career. The previous season, Demschar said she was not sure she wanted to continue running. Thoughts of retiring had distracted her, so she chose not to think about retirement the following winter. She was not skiing to her full potential, which Demschar blamed on a new model of ski boot that did not suit her. After she returned to her old boots, he says she got better.

“I thought at the time that she hadn’t given everything she was capable of,” said Demschar.

Lindh started to make significant progress towards the end of his last season, finishing third at the World Cup in Switzerland and making a big comeback at the World Championship in Italy. But by the end of the season Lindh was ready to move on and at 27 she started the next chapter of her life.

“When I was running I (thought) that very soon I would have to find a real job,” says Lindh.

Lindh grew up skiing at Eaglecrest Ski Area in Juneau, Alaska, a city-owned ski resort that started in the 1970s with help from her father, a native of Missoula and working for the US Forest Service in the era as a regional snow keeper. The coastal ski area in the southeastern part of the state often sees winter rains (the summit elevation is 2,750 feet above sea level).

Lindh’s father moved to Alaska in the 1960s where he met his mother, raised a family and spent the winters skiing at Eaglecrest, introducing Lindh to ski racing.

By the time she was a teenager Lindh started to excel in racing and she transferred to Romark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City during her freshman year and began traveling with the national team at the age of 15. . After winning the United States National Champion and the Junior World Champion. in downhill at 16 she started racing on the World Cup circuit full time and over the next 12 years she competed in three Olympics and countless World Championship and Cup races around the world, specializing in downhill and super-G disciplines where she has been skiing over 80 miles per hour.

Lindh had established herself as a speed skier, but continued to race in the slalom and giant slalom disciplines until her early twenties before realizing that she needed to focus on the speed events. .

“I’ve always been a speed skier,” says Lindh. “It’s fun and I was good at it. There is a lot of finesse and you can’t make sudden movements or overreact if you are afraid. Auto racing is similar, you just have to run and if you correct too quickly you will be in trouble. I think I was adept at not panicking and dealing with it.

In 1988, at the age of 18, Lindh traveled to Calgary for her first Olympic Games. It was an eye-opening experience. She was not used to the media attention at the Winter Games compared to the World Cup races she was used to. She didn’t step on any podium that year, but she knew what to expect at the next Olympics in Albertville, France. Lindh felt less pressure on her way to France in 1992 and she changed her perspective, focusing on doing her best and not caring about her results or winning a gold medal. With four more years of experience and confidence, she won a silver medal in Albertville.

Two years later, she competed in her last Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, the year organizers made up for the winter and summer games, and she continued to run for three years before taking her retired in 1997.

In her final years with the US Ski Team, Demschar says she was one of his favorite athletes to train. Lindh had a laid back attitude towards skiing which he said made him successful.

“If you look at her results back then, she was just as successful as Picabo Street,” Demschar said. “But she was very calm and withdrawn and very humble. This is the reason why I have always loved her. She was not in the limelight and she found success on her own and in her own way. “

But in her twelfth season on the US ski team, Lindh was tired. She knew what it took to be on top, and she no longer had the motivation. She had already accomplished what she wanted.

“I was right on top,” Lindh said. “I felt that I had to continue my studies and find a job. I thought it was important at the time.

After earning an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in conservation from the University of British Columbia, Lindh worked as an environmental consultant in Canada and Juneau before moving to Whitefish. in 2016 with her husband and daughter.

Lindh and her husband moved to Whitefish with no scheduled jobs and had to think outside the box to find something to do in Flathead Valley. She ended up working for the Town of Whitefish as a planner while also coaching for the Flathead Valley Education Foundation (FVSEF), Whitefish Mountain Resort’s non-profit ski racing team.

“We came here for skiing,” said Lindh.

While Lindh says her work with the city was a great place to work, she recently resigned after four years when the FVSEF Board of Directors offered her a full-time position as General Manager and Head Coach. from the program.

“It’s a tough role to fill and knowing that she has a daughter in the program and that she is already linked as an Olympian, she is almost overqualified for the job,” said the director of the board. administration of the FVSEF, Cari Klepper. “To have someone with this level of experience is just perfect.”

But it was not a simple decision for Lindh. His work as an urban planner had its advantages and was much more stable than a post at the FVSEF. And although she had coached intermittently for the past 25 years, Lindh had never coached full time.

“It seemed like something really exciting and challenging,” Lindh says. “It’s a sport that I have known intimately for decades. It seemed like a really exciting opportunity to me, so I went for it.

Demschar laughed when Lindh told him about his new job. But he says he couldn’t think of a better candidate for the job.

“She knows the pipeline,” he says. “The element of her ski racing at the highest ranks… She understands what it takes and she’s a good human being and cares about people.”

Founded in 1973, the FVSEF offers both competitive ski training and soft skills development for children aged 6 in high school, as well as a separate teacher group for adults in their sixties and sixties. . With 170 children at FVSEF, the majority of those participants are enrolled in the All Mountain Rangers program, which emphasizes basic ski skills. From there, skiers can build on that foundation and move on to the development team, which has around 35 participants, for kids ages 8-14 and involves more race training.

But Lindh says it’s hard to hold athletes back once they become teenagers, with some getting distracted by other activities or deciding they want to ski with their friends instead of the program as it becomes more engaged and intense.

In the U14, U16, and U19 competitive programs, where skiers ages 12 to 18 travel through Montana and parts of Wyoming and South Dakota in the Northern United States Ski and Snowboard Division (USSA), Lindh says there are fewer participants and that they only have under-16 skiers this season after some of the older athletes did not participate in the program.

“We lose it every year as the kids get older because the programs are more expensive and take longer,” Lindh said. “But one of our goals is to retain a higher percentage of children as they get older.”

Lindh, now 52, ​​is working to retain these athletes. She says that in the past, many participants already had a history of ski racing in their families and had parents who were more knowledgeable about the sport, which sparked more interest. But with a herd of new residents in the valley, many with minimal skiing skills, she is working to educate new families.

“I think we’re moving into an organization that teaches new families about ski racing,” says Lindh. “It’s a result of new people coming to town who want to enjoy the benefits of this place, and skiing is one of those things. Part of it is looking at how to bring families into this ski community, teach them the traditions and history of the sport, and create that sense of community.

In addition to skiing, Lindh and FVSEF staff and coaches teach mental resilience, focus, goal setting, and general life skills.

“We really focus on sportsmanship in ski racing and in all sports,” says Lindh. “It’s really important to focus on the journey and how you are heading towards your goals rather than the destination and to teach that perspective. It’s a sport that lasts a lifetime and you will never achieve perfection, but you can strive to keep improving and I think those are really valuable skills.

Klepper says Lindh has been a huge inspiration to the kids on the team and having an Olympian as a coach makes her daughter dream big.

“It’s so inspiring for her because you never thought you could make it to the Olympics,” Klepper said. “It makes their dreams come true because we have an Olympian as our head coach.”

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