Local skier Tommy Gogolen to represent U.S. in tele World Championships
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FARMER’S KORNER – Most of his friends had no idea what he was doing, and the players on the team he coaches, well, they were left in the dark, too.
Tommy Gogolen doesn’t like touting his accomplishments or letting too many people in on his ambitions.
So, while he got ready for soccer practice last week – he’s the head coach of the Summit High girls’ squad – he stood in the school’s main entry way looking like any other coach or teacher meandering around after the school day.
It was the U.S. Telemark Ski Team T-shirt hidden beneath his coach’s jacket that gave everything away. Not that anyone could see it, though, because, like Superman and his baby-blue costume tucked under the three-piece suit of Clark Kent, Gogolen tried to keep his identity hidden.
“I haven’t been too vocal about what I’m doing, my team doesn’t even know what I’m doing,” he said. “I don’t like to be promoting myself.”
OK, so maybe “what he’s doing” isn’t quite super-hero level, but, it’s sensational nonetheless.
After clicking into a pair of free-heel race bindings just three years ago, Gogolen has already vaulted to elite status in telemark ski racing: He will represent the U.S. at the Telemark World Championships in Rjukan, Norway, starting Wednesday.
“I’m super excited to represent my country,” he said, still a little amazed by the idea. “Usually, it’s you get to represent your high school or maybe your college, but now I’ll be representing a whole country.”
Gogolen has always been a strong athlete, someone who could pick up sports relatively quickly.
He played three sports at Nyack College in New York. He was on both the golf and soccer teams and, since the school didn’t have an alpine team, he raced individually – representing the school – in NCAA competitions.
He’s been a ski racer for much of his life, but when he graduated and moved up to Summit County, he put the racing skis away.
“I picked up tele skiing after I moved out,” he said.
Then, he started hearing about a teenage skier from Silverthorne, who was racking up telemark racing wins – Drew Hauser. The Summit High grad won the 2009 Telemark World Junior Championships and the U.S. national title a month after that.
“I saw everything Drew was doing, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I want to do that,'” Gogolen said.
Hauser’s father, Tori, was a world-class telemark racer himself and is still involved with the national team program. So, Gogolen went to the elder Hauser for some advice.
“He helped me out a lot,” Gogolen said. “I went in there and I left with a pair of – I think they were his old racing skis. I went home and mounted them that night.”
Gogolen started working out and training on his own, and when Keystone Resort hosted a World Cup race last winter, Tori Hauser asked Gogolen if he wanted to forerun.
“That was a feeler for me to see if it was something where I could hang with those guys,” he said, admitting that he liked where he stacked up. “Then, I decided to go to nationals.”
The U.S. Telemark National Championships were in Montana, and after a month of training, Gogolen made the 17-hour trek to the competition.
And he blew out his knee at the finish line of the first run.
It was on the car ride home from nationals that Gogolen realized telemark racing was what he wanted to do. Or, actually, it was when he received a phone call on that ride.
Feeling down about what happened, Gogolen got a call from Tori Hauser, who told him he had finished seventh on the run he barely finished.
“My goal was top-20, and I was seventh,” he said. “I walked out of there just blowing my knee out, but I knew I could hang with those guys. These were the best guys in the country.”
He rehabbed hard all summer to get his knee back in shape and has spent the winter training.
As an assistant coach to the SHS alpine ski team, Gogolen took advantage of the nights on the hill by getting in some gate work, and he started to feel more comfortable racing again.
Since he wasn’t a member of the national team, Gogolen had to petition the U.S. Telemark Ski Association for the opportunity to go to the World Championships.
Strong finishes in some stateside races in December and January helped his cause, as he beat a handful of guys on the U.S. team.
Then, he received a package.
“The U.S. Telemark Ski Team sent me a jacket,” he said. “I was really excited to get that, just to have “U-S-A” across your back.”
He admits that he’s not quite where he wants to be yet in terms of his racing ability. He took a skate class a few weeks ago, which he said helped a lot. (Most telemark races have both giant slalom and skating portions, along with jumps.)
Just a handful of team members will be in Norway, Hauser being one of them.
And while Gogolen has modest goals of finishing “somewhere in the middle of the pack” this week, he said the main focus is to officially join Hauser on the national team, hopefully earning his spot through his competitive results.
“That’s what I’m looking to do,” he said. “That’s the goal.”
Then, maybe he’ll keep the U.S. logo on the outside of his jacket for everyone to see.
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