ĎI knew I could winí
Express Staff Writer
Kiesel revolutionized American skiing without meaning to, without a
revolutionary thought in her head, by just doing what came naturally to
her. The 16-year resident of Ketchum, who grew up as Alison Owen in
Wenatchee, Wash., remembers that "I started alpine skiing when I was
about five. I loved it, but when I was 12 I was introduced to
cross-country skiing and it became my passion. I liked to hike and run and
cross-country fit right in."
was barely 13, in 1966, Kiesel qualified for the junior national
championships in cross country. Her coach, Herb Thomas, who now lives in
Ketchum, encouraged her and was a big influence on her skiing and her
life. He took her to the championships in Winter Park, Colo., only to
discover that, in 1966, girls didnít race in cross-country national
championships. She had qualified with the boys in her division and met the
criteria, but many of the other coaches and racers didnít want a girl to
race. In 1966 American womenís athletics were still in the Stone Age,
and, among other things, girls just didnít race in the national
championships in cross-country. There wasnít even a womenís U.S. cross
country team. But Alison wanted to race, her coach wanted her to race, and
she had qualified to race. After some discussion, she did, beating some of
the boys in the process.
didnít set too well with them," she said, but her results led to
the formation of a U.S. womenís cross country ski team.
werenít many endurance sports open to girls at that time," she
says. "I was a girl in a boyís world, so I had to beat the boys. Itís
better now in some ways, but itís just as hard for girls and itís more
on to have an outstanding career as a cross-country skier. No American
woman has ever placed so well in international Nordic competition. She
raced in the 1970, 1974 and 1978 World Championships, and in the 1972 and
1980 Olympics. She sat out the 1976 Olympics because she was attending
Western State College in Gunnison, Colo.
results were never in the World Championships or the Olympics. She was
23rd in the 1974 World Championships and 30th at the Lake Placid Olympics
in 1980. But she was 2nd in the prestigious Holmenkollen 10 kilometer
World Cup race in Holmenkollen, Norway, two weeks after those Olympics,
and she was often in the first 10 in World Cup events during her career.
In 1979 she was 7th in the overall World Cup standings. But one of her
finest moment came in Telemark, Wis., in 1978, when she won the first
womenís World Cup cross country ski race.
Of that win
she said to journalist Paul Robbins, paraphrasing Henry Ford, "If you
think you can, or if you think you canít, youíre absolutely right. I
remember how absolutely positive I was that I could win. I just wanted the
chance to do it."
retired from competitive skiing in 1981 at the age of 28. When asked why
she quit, she replied, "Thatís a good question. In some ways I was
just learning how to really race at that level, and physically and
technically I might have kept going. I think I quit because of a cultural
imprint that it was time for a woman to do something else. I didnít
really need to quit then."
49-year-old divorced mother of two, Kiesel has raised her two children
"in the Nordic lifestyle," and both are accomplished
cross-country ski racers. "Itís a fun way to live and I love
Jess, 19, is spending this year in Sweden training and learning. Her
daughter, Kaelin, 16, who is attending Rocky Mountain School in
Carbondale, Colo., also is following; in her motherís footsteps.
She is one
of two Wood River Valley residents who attend Colorado Rocky Mountain
School named to the Junior National Championships in Nordic skiing .
Kiesel and Erin Magee, of Ketchum, will represent the small
college-preparatory, boarding and day school at the Junior Nationals in
McCall, Idaho, March 1 to 9.
Kiesel also recently returned from Norway, where she raced for the U.S.
Ski Team at the prestigious Scandinavian Cup ĺ the equivalent of the
Junior Nationals in Scandinavia, where top Nordic skiers are national
director at Ketchumís Thunder Spring and Zenergy, Alison Kiesel skis for
herself nearly every day. And, now that her kids are raised, she is
"toying" with the idea of training again and competing at the
masterís level. After all, the Masterís World Championships in
cross-country are being bid on by McCall for 2005.