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Stacey Cook looks back on best downhill season: Athlete has Solchi Winter Olympic Games in her sights

March 9, 2012

Stacey Cook. Photo/George Shirk

We caught up with Mammoth World Cup downhill racer Stacey Cook this past week, and realized it’s been nine years since she first burst onto the big-time international stage.

Nine years!
 
Now 27, she obviously is no longer the wide-eyed kid from Tahoe obsessed with speed, and it showed in her results this season. It was by far her best season yet.
 
She landed five top-10s in the downhill, coming in sixth in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, before finishing the season ranked eighth in the world in downhill.
 
She was part of a terrific U.S. team that, going into the World Cup Finals next week, lead the Nation’s Cup standings in women’s downhill by 423 points over Austria.
 
But that’s not all. She was ninth in the 2014 Olympic test event last month in Solchi, Russia, as part of a historic team that had four American women in the top 10.
 
Cook was home for just six days before heading back to Europe for the Finals March 11-18 in Schladming, Austria, where a good result will give her a decent chance to improve her world ranking.
 
“As you know,” said the USSA’s Doug Haney, “Stacey is an awesome athlete and a great ambassador for Mammoth.”
 
She arrived during last week’s snow, and left on Tuesday, with graying skies and a bit more snow in the forecast.
 
Mammoth Times: Welcome home!
Stacey Cook: Thanks! Whenever I come back, it snows, so maybe they ought to bring me back more often.
 
MT: In spite of a bad snow year, the skiing around here actually was pretty good.
SC: It’s impressive that Mammoth has the willpower and the know-how and the equipment to make that happen.
 
MT: How would you characterize your season?
SC: That’s a good question. I would say I was consistent and had a lot of fun, and the fun is what has been allowing me to be consistent in my results.
 
MT: Let’s talk about the fun aspect of it a little bit.
SC: It wasn’t just my own successes; it was the team’s. When you’re in a positive environment, it’s easy to enjoy every moment a little bit more. I’ve been on teams on both sides—teams that had horrible results across the board, and now I’m with a team that is doing awesome across the board. It’s a lot easier to have fun and be positive when everyone gets along. Everyone’s doing well, and we’re pushing each other in a competitive but friendly way.
 
MT: What changed with the team?
SC: I think it’s the process—something that’s happened over time. This group of girls has been through one of the toughest years ever, together, and we’ve come out the other side of that. Everyone really wants to be better than each other, but we all want the best for everyone else, too.
 
MT: Why was it such a tough season?
SC: Back in 2009, it was just disappointing race after disappointing race and people were getting frustrated and coaches were getting frustrated, and it just didn’t create an environment that you can do well. It’s hard, when it’s happening, to adjust to that. But it’s easy to look back on it now and see the mistakes that were made, and everyone is capable of learning from those mistakes. We did that this season.
 
MT: This is your ninth year of World Cup racing. Are you feeling like a seasoned veteran now, where you can teach as well as learn?
SC: There are days that I feel old, especially my knees, like a veteran, but there also are days where I feel young and that I can still learn. I think the story of my career is that I’ve always been a late bloomer, and I still think my best is in front of me. That makes me feel young and energized. But there are definitely days where I feel like a veteran and can help out my younger teammates and try to be a little bit more of a leader. Still, you can learn from everyone, including the young girls.
 
MT: What was your best race? Was your best skiing also in the race that was your best result?
SC: No, I wouldn’t say that. I think that, and my coaches would say this, too, that my worst placing in downhill this year has probably been my best race. I was 18th at Lake Louise. It was a wind-affected race and I got the bad part of the wind. But my coaches said they’d never seen me race so well on that particular day. That was the very first race of the year. That gave me a lot of confidence to hear that, to know that I could be so affected by the wind and have such bad luck with it but still race well. That’s just part of being in an outdoor sport. Still, even after being in 18th place, I was happy with that on that day. It was racing in tough conditions but I had my mindset right the very first race of the season, to be charging and attacking and racing better than I trained.
 
MT: So that set up your season. But your best result was in Italy.
SC: That also was a wind affected race, and that was tough. There have been a few races where I’ve been winning splits in different sections and either made a mistake or was affected by something. But that’s the joy of our sport. You just keep pushing. When you know that you can ski well enough to be at the top, and you’re not quite there yet, it gives you a lot of motivation to keep pushing and not get content with where you’re at.
 
MT: You’re here for how long?
SC: Six days, then I go back to Europe tomorrow. I like coming home and seeing everyone. It’s motivational to see the little kids. It’s a simple joy to see the little things. It gives you reminders. My friends are here, and that gives me a lot of confidence when I get back on the road.
 
MT: Saturday was the junior team speed trap, but you didn’t make a run. 
SC: I love the speed trap. I didn’t run it on Saturday because I left all my skis over in Europe, so all I had was my powder skis and I didn’t think that was safe.
 
MT: Why are the young skiers important to you?
SC: I think that it reminds me a lot of my roots. I grew up with so much joy for the sport, and it’s easy to see that—the little things that they just love, and how much they’re pushing themselves to be better without even knowing it. That’s something cool about young kids. They’re improving every day where for me, an improvement once a month is awesome. But for them, they have such an ability to adapt and to learn and to find joy in it and not even notice, actually.  I like their spirit.
 
MT: You raced in Russia this season at Solchi on the probable downhill course for the Olympics in 2014. What was that like?
SC: It’s very unique. It has a lot of elements that we’re not really used to seeing, which is good, because you want an Olympic hill to be a challenge. You want the best skier to win Olympic medal. It’s definitely a course that will allow the best skier to win. It’s steep and technical at the top, then it flattens out, with a lot of terrain, rolls and jumps at the bottom, so it’s got a little bit of everything in there. It makes you think. You really have to be a thinker on the top half of the course. I like it. They’ve done a really good job at cutting the course. First-time setups on a new hill usually don’t go that well, and that happened with the men’s course there. But they did a great job with ours. Russia’s never run an alpine event, so you’re teaching the workers there everything, including how to slip a course. They don’t even know how to do that. They don’t even know how to set up fences! 
 
MT: What do you expect out of the World Cup Finals next week?
SC: I’ve been so close to the podium this year and I’m usually really careful about not giving myself result-based goals.  But this season, I really want to do that, and I feel like I’m in the right place to do that. I was sixth in Italy and I was three-tenths away from the podium in several races. All I can do is my best every day, and results are so based on how everyone else does, too. I really feel that if you want to characterize my season, it’s been skiing to the best of my ability every day. I’ve been trying to be relaxed and confident enough to do that. If I feel like I’ve done my best, I’m happy, no matter what the result is. But I was so close this year.
 
MT: What do you plan for the summer?
SC: A lot of time on the bike, hopefully, and utilizing the Eastern Sierra as much as I can. It’s a perfect training ground. It’s hard not to be in love in with Mammoth in the summer.
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