Olympics: a maverick skier who could medal
Andrew Newell is turning cross-country skiing on its head, literally, and is one of the U.S. Team's best hopes for an olympic medal.
(Page 2 of 2)
Going into eighth grade, Newell was "getting [his] butt kicked" at summer training camps, he says. So he decided to go to Stratton for the winter term. He was coached by Sverre Caldwell, whom – together with his brother, Tim, and 1976 medalist Bill Koch – Newell describes as "young stallions who would run for six hours without water and hike mountains carrying rocks."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"We all wanted to be like those legendary Vermont skiers," recalls Newell, whose autographed 2006 Olympic photo now hangs in the school's field house, inspiring a new crop of Stratton juniors. "So it was a good group of kids that were able to push each other really hard."
By Newell's senior year in high school, the Stratton team was better than any college team in the Northeast – in a sport where athletes generally peak in their late 20s.
But while Caldwell had talent, he also had problems. Just weeks before Junior Nationals one year, Newell injured himself doing a 360 during practice.
"As a coach, I was torn because if he doesn't hurt himself, [doing tricks] is actually good for him. But it's high-risk," says Caldwell, who said Newell had to find a balance between wisdom and the tough Vermonter image he and his teammates cultivated. "They liked to think they were badass rednecks."
In 2006, Newell was able to translate his tactics into the first World Cup medal (a bronze) for the US since 1983. The next year, his teammate Kikkan Randall of Anchorage, Alaska, followed suit with bronze – then gold. In 2009, she became the first US woman ever to medal at Worlds. Andover, N.H., native Kris Freeman, meanwhile, missed bronze in the 15-kilometer (9-mile) race by just 1.3 seconds.
Those results have shattered a mental glass ceiling.
"We've spent ... almost a quarter of a century not believing that we can do it," says national team coach Pete Vordenberg. "So that's a real difficult thing to overcome."
Bagging an Olympic medal would not only boost their own confidence, but also that of US skiers coming up in the ranks.
"If Andy [Newell] wins, they're going to believe they can win," says Caldwell.
Already, Newell has developed a following among many young skiers – especially in New England. Two of them were careening off improvised jumps at the Weston Ski Track just outside Boston in mid-January.
Middle schooler Gavin McEwen says he's been following Newell online since second grade. His buddy Chris Koziel, meanwhile, got to train with Newell at a Stratton summer camp and likes checking out his stunts on YouTube – including one clip of him doing a back flip over a parked car.
"It's kind [of] sick that he can do all those tricks, but the World Cup [success he's had] is more important," says Chris. "He's the man. And now I'm going to see him in Vancouver."
In addition to inspiring young sprites, Newell is helping to set a new model of professionalism on the US Ski Team. Even as a teenager, he raised eyebrows by getting up in the middle of action movies to go to bed at 9 p.m.
"Freeman, Newell, and Kikkan have really carried themselves as professional athletes," says US coach Chris Grover. "Because [of that] ... and because of their success, the whole group of younger athletes understands that to be the norm."
Liz Stephen, one of the most promising young women on the team, singles out Newell as a role model.
"Newell doesn't want to hope about whether he's done the work and whether he can win. He knows he can win, he knows he's done the work," says Ms. Stephen. "I think that's kind of the motto across the line for our team. We want to know that when we show up for races, we're prepared."
In Whistler, they will be.