Fall Line

It was portrayed as a breakthrough—the first Olympic Medals won by the U.S. men’s ski team. Billy Kidd and Jimmie Heuga captured silver and bronze in the 1964 Olympic slalom at Innsbruck, Austria. The two fresh-faced 20-year-olds, along with Bob Beattie, their brash young coach, appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Beattie had boldly predicted his team’s success, yet he had to wait through disappointing results in downhill and giant slalom before Kidd and Heuga prevailed on the final day. “Pay day, declared SKI. The medals were the reward for two pioneering years of ferocious, football-style training under Beattie, who was the U.S. Ski Team’s first full-time coach. In three prior Olympics, a few American men—despite sporadic training and temporary coaches—had nearly won medals. Here was proof of the idea, encouraged by Beattie, that success would require a centralized national ski team. But after the sweetness of the 1964 triumph, 16 more winters elapsed before an American male skier—Phil Mahre—won another Olympic medal. Even the coach began to have doubts. After he turned to television work and development of pro ski racing, Beattie wrote in a 1970 issue of SKI, “Let’s do away with our national team. In its place he advocated that skiing follow swimming’s success in creating Olympic medalists through independent programs across the country. Are champions developed by coaches working at the grass-roots level or through top-down national programs? The argument continues to this day.