John F. Russell: Making a few turns with skiing legend Billy Kidd
Steamboat Springs — I’ve skied with Olympic silver medalists and a two-time NCAA national champion who I barely could keep up with on my best day. But before last week, I never had a chance to ski with a legend.
Fifty years ago, William Winston Kidd, better known as Billy, and his teammate Jimmy Heuga became the first American men to win medals in Alpine skiing at the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Billy also placed third in combined that year, but combined was a nonmedal event that year. In 1970, Billy added a gold in combined and a bronze in the slalom to his collection at the World Championships in Val Gardena.
I was 4 at the time.
These days, Billy’s a little older, but I understand why he was a legend. At 70 years old, his form still is remarkable. His days of winning Olympic and World Championship medals might be in the past, but there is no question that he could beat this photographer down the slopes and be seated on the deck and enjoying a beer at Bear River Bar & Grill before I made it to the bottom on the hill.
But more impressive than his skills on a pair of skis is his passion for the sport. He spends his days promoting skiing everywhere he goes, and he never has passed up an opportunity to shake a hand or visit with a stranger for a few minutes.
He takes a real interest in the people he meets and is good at making conversation. Not all of these people will recognize him as the American skiing legend that he is, but that doesn’t matter. Billy’s passion is genuine, his love of skiing is contagious and his energy is endless.
He’s the type of guy who makes the most of a photo op. He not only takes an interest in those of us who are working with him, but he has a hearty hello for everyone he passes. He takes the time to stop and visit when he can, and despite the fact that he is one of the best skiers in the country, he focuses on making sure his form is strong. He even worries about it.
I never had the chance to watch Billy on skis when he was a member of the U.S. Ski Team or during his days as a top professional racer after that. His accomplishments are well documented, but if I had had a chance to watch him, I think that I would have been a fan.
Not because he was a historic figure in skiing history. Not because he won an Olympic medal or that he dominated the sport while he was in it. I would be a fan because Billy has a deep respect for the sport and what it has brought him in life. He understands that it takes more than winning to be a champion, and he is the kind of guy who everybody would want to ski with.
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