Vail World Cup skier Fleischer calls it a career
VAIL – Just one week ago, Vail World Cup ski racer Chad Fleischer told the Summit Daily News, “My main priority is the 2006 Olympics. This isn’t for anyone. I want to do this for myself.”
He said he wanted to podium in Lake Louise, Alberta, in the opening race of the season.
He said he’d love to win in his home town, Vail, at the Birds of Prey Downhill in early December.
Apparently, some time reflecting in the woods, while hunting, has changed all that. A 10-year veteran of the United States Ski Team, Fleischer announced his retirement from competitive ski racing Tuesday.
“It’s like, as an athlete, you live right on that threshold and I just don’t have that fire and that passion to be on that threshold anymore,” he said.
“That was my edge forever. I just didn’t feel that passion to race, like I have in the past. I love skiing, but I have more passion now to go and ski with friends and family and freeski than I do to go flying down a race course.”
Fleischer had been rehabbing from an crash, which blew out his right knee, in Wengen, Switzerland, in January 2002, just three weeks before the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
“I was really at the height of my career of all the times I’d been skiing. Then I did what I did to my knee. … You live your whole life to be in your prime going into the Winter Olympics in your home country.
“It wasn’t like getting yanked off (your pedestal). I got slam-dunked. But it was cool. I learned a lot from it. The most difficult and best times of my life have come from skiing.”
Fleischer worked with Dr. Richard Steadman and John Atkins from the Howard Head Sports Medicine in Vail to get that knee back into shape. According to Fleischer, his knee is 100 percent.
The United States Ski and Snowboard Association quickly expressed its appreciation Tuesday for Fleischer’s contributions to American skiing.
“Chad always represented such a will to make it back,” men’s head coach Phil McNichol said in a statement released by the USSSA. “He did have a good camp, and he was comfortably on track, in our eyes, and a little ahead of where we hoped he’d back. We really had positive thoughts about his comeback … but, Chad’s clearly in charge of his destiny. I’ve got to praise him for his honest self-evaluation.”
At 31, Fleischer has spent the last 19 years of his life in skiing. He put on his first pair of skis when he was 2. After growing up in Nebraska, he started skiing competitively with Ski Club Vail at the age of 12 in Vail Cup races.
He first skied internationally in Italy when he was 14, and it was then that he decided racing was his calling. He continued to race with Vail while graduating from Battle Mountain in 1990.
While seemingly content with his decision to retire, there’s no doubting he’ll miss racing.
“I think I’m going to miss it a great deal,” Fleischer said. “But, at the same time, there’s a lot of stuff I’m not going to miss about it. And, that’s why I decided to leave it. I had a great career, made a lot of friends and am really happy with how it all ended up. I don’t want to be five years from now in wheelchair for the rest of my life, wishing I made the right decision a long time ago.”
“It’s a full-time business. You have to hustle,” Fleischer added. “You have to make sure you’re always keeping track of your equipment. You’re always keeping in touch with your sponsors and in touch with your coaches. Just the simple little things that are more like daily tasks. … It’s amazing how much time and energy it takes to keep up with it all, especially this past year and a half has taken its toll.”
Battling through five knee surgeries during his career did not stop Fleischer from some glorious moments on the slopes.
Though he has placed higher in World Cup races, his shining moment came during the 1999 World Alpine Skiing Championships at Beaver Creek. In front of more than 10,000 partisan fans at the Birds of Prey, Fleischer flew down the course to take sixth place in the super-G.
Fleischer’s best finish came at the 1999 World Cup Finals in the downhill, when he took second in Sierra Nevada, Spain. Other top 10s include fifth and seventh in Lake Louise dowhills in 2001 and 2000, respectively, as well as a ninth at Kvitfjell, Norway, in super-G in 1999, and a 10th in downhill in Bormio, Italy, in 2002.
Then, there were two appearances at the Winter Games. Though his performances weren’t exactly stellar – he was a DNF in Lillehammer, Norway, and 34th in Nagano, Japan, both in super-G – the experience of competing on the international stage was unforgettable.
“It’s just mind-boggling. It’s almost overwhelming,” Fleischer said. “Every single person is watching that event. It’s just such an incredible moment. You meet incredible people, incredible athletes. You get to watch them in their other sports, not to mention a chance to showcase your abilities in front of the world. I think that’s an amazing opportunity, and I feel lucky to have been given that opportunity to do that twice in my career.”
Something Fleischer also did twice in his career was winning a national championship. He won U.S. downhill gold at Sugarloaf, Maine, in 1996, and at Snowbasin, Utah, in 1999.
Fleischer, by no means, is done with skiing. He’ll be working with the Outdoor Life Network, doing skiing coverage for 16 consecutive weeks this winter. That, of course, means that he will be making a return appearance to the Birds of Prey, when the World Cup returns come December.
He is also in business with Ignition Entertainment, a company devoted to promoting action sports. One of those events is scheduled for Vail this winter, so expect Chad Fleischer sightings in the future.
“You’ve just seen the end of me flying down a race course at Beaver Creek,” Fleischer joked.
Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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