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A Downhill Vet with a Bright Future

U.S. Ski Teamer Marco "Sully" Sullivan talks Olympic training and philosophies on the sport he loves.

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As a Lake Tahoe native and longtime racer, Marco Sullivan has grown up with skiing on his mind. While injuries plagued him in 2004 and 2005, leading to a lackluster few years, he won his first World Cup in 2008. And he’s been strong since.

We chased down the U.S. Ski Teamer to talk about his experience, his wisdom and the Olympics.

How has your training been going, and how are you feeling this year?

I haven’t had any major injuries the last couple years, so I’m feeling strong, and equipment has been consistent. A few years ago I was off the back—ranked out of the top 30—but now I’m back ranked in the top 15 in the world in downhill. Really, I have nothing holding me back, so expectations are high, and I’m feeling good.

Ski racing has its fair share of crashes and injuries. Is that something you think about, or do you just push it out of your mind in order to do well?

I’m 33, and when I was first on the World Cup I crashed about every other week. I was just reckless. A lot of guys are. But as I get older I don’t want to go back into the hospital. For sure it’s in the back of my mind, but I think I’ve found that I can stay on that edge of being as fast as possible without pushing it onto the other side where you’re just doing dumb things and ending up in the fence. For me, at this point in my career, it’s important to stay healthy. Of course I’m skiing as fast as possible, but I think I’ve got that experience now where I can shut it down before I’m really going to take a huge risk.

(photo by Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts)

You mentioned your age. Do you think that makes you more conservative than younger racers, or do you really think you’re able to push yourself while still avoiding injury?

For sure, it makes me more conservative, but it makes me smarter as well. A lot of times when you’re younger you take risks that are unnecessary. I’m still taking risks to try and win, but, as any human being when you get old, you start to preserve  your wellbeing more. I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t come into play a little bit, but I’m still just as fast, if not faster than when I was younger.  I think other things make up for that lack of willingness to take it over the edge.

Being 33, do you feel like you have some things you can teach the younger skiers on the team, so they don’t learn the hard way?

Yeah, I hope so. We talk a lot going up on the lift and training in the gym together. Usually my advice is not to take everyday so seriously. You can have a long career as a ski racer and a lot of success, but when you’re young you tend to take everyday as a make-or-break moment. On the downhill side especially, because we go back to a lot of the same venues every year, you can really learn the tracks and your strengths and weaknesses. If you do that you really become a contender the second or third time you go back. There are huge injuries that happen, and when you miss a whole year due to injury, that takes a huge toll on your career. In my 14 years on the team, I’ve missed almost four whole seasons due to injury, and it’s a huge setback. If we keep guys healthy and consistently climbing up the ranks, then in time we’ll have a great team.