Two-sport world champion Beth Heiden now a varsity skier
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''I didn't really set goals when I was skating either; I'd just go out and try to improve my personals (her best time in an event), but it's all so standardized in skating. In skiing, each course is different even though the distance may be the same, so I'm just trying to keep skiing better.''Skip to next paragraph
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''The Olympics would be fun but I'd have to put in a lot of [training] time and ski a lot more seriously,'' she added, indicating that if that had been her top priority, she probably would have been better off taking this year off from school to devote more time to training.
Heiden's biggest handicap, according to coaches, is her lack of experience as a skier. Her technique isn't perfect, but that is offset in part by her attitude and athletic background.
''Beth's incredibly coachable,'' says John Estle, head ski coach at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks but a UVM assistant coach a year ago who worked extensively with Heiden. ''She's got that excellent attitude and then that athletic sense, so you don't have to keep telling her how to do something. She picks up on coaching right away,''
Chip LaCasse, head ski coach at the University of Vermont, adds, ''She's our No. 2 skier [behind veteran national team skier Joanne Musolf] and she's been great. We didn't recruit her - she chose us - and she's been a really pleasant surprise for us.''
LaCasse says her progress ''has been astronomical for someone who has been skiing less than two years, just phenomenal. She's even learning about waxing her skis; last year the coaches waxed her skis, but this year she gets right in there and helps decide the right wax, and then helps put it on her skis.''
Heiden competes each weekend on the college winter carnival circuit, running the middle leg in UVM's three-member relay as well as her individual race. Last weekend she scored her first collegiate victory in the five-kilometer individual race at the University of New Hampshire Winter Carnival, helping her team to the overall championship.
She is competing this week in Waitsfield, Vt., about an hour from the UVM campus, in qualifying races for a spot on the US team going to the World University Games in Bulgaria in mid-February.
''I'd like to make the team, and the qualifiers may be my biggest races all season . . . and then the NCAAs, of course,'' she says. ''I think about the Olympics, but the college level is probably the highest I'll ever ski. It's an excellent level and I'm having fun here.''
LaCasse adds, ''Beth's doing a super job of walking a thin line between getting a good education and maintaining that highly competitive attitude, which is pretty typical of our skiers. She rooms with other skiers and, sure, they want to ski but they're the kind of student-athlete you like to see. It's a tough balancing act and, especially with her fiery competitive nature. She's handling it very well.''
The ''down side'' to the enjoyment and satisfaction, she says, ''is not being able to do something to the very best that I can do it. That bothers me a little. In skating, I did everything to the best, I put everything into it . . . but I can't do that with skiing.''
Clearly, skiing has not consumed Beth Heiden the way skating did. She keeps intensity at arm's length. She has grown - in character if not in size (''I'm up maybe four or five pounds to 110,'' the 5 ft. 2 in. Wisconsin native says, grinning) - and is a smiling, serious but personable college student who just happens to be a pretty fair skier, too.