The beauty of sport: Caroline Lalive talks about a place where politics fades away{mosimage}In our current world situation the tension among nations is evident throughout the media. The emotion and turmoil weighs heavily on the minds of many. Regardless of one’s opinion, the headlines are clear, and in bold lettering. Within the arena of ski racing, however, I believe the political lines have become somewhat blurred.

I’ve always felt the world of ski racing is different from the norm. It is, after all, the “White Circus,” sheltered from the so-called real world. Regardless, this is where the irony seems to blossom. This season, the truth of sportsmanship became more apparent to me, even in the midst of intense competition. Of course I speak only from my own observations and experiences but what I have come to see and know has warmed my heart and restored my faith in mankind.

Ski racing, as with most elite, individual sports, requires a selfish attitude. An athlete must be driven and recognize what will either aide or hinder their quest. Time and energy are as precious gold and must be managed and guarded. All this can make for a rather self-absorbed environment. It is an individual sport after all, right?

Sure, but the truth of the matter is that within this highly individual sport there is the need for a team aspect. The World Cup could not operate without the involvement of many different countries. The level of competition is only improved with the interest and passion of a diverse body of athletes. Even more importantly, the strongest athletes often come from a family-oriented program or one that promotes a strong team atmosphere. The purity and truth of the sport is magnified when athletes forget the colors of the flag and recognize the talent and skill of the racer.

I have a vivid memory from the 2003 World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. American men took spots one and three in the men’s giant slalom with Bode Miller and Erik Schlopy. When a reporter asked Erik how he felt being on the podium with Bode, he responded with such grace and humility. He stated that he thanked Bode for pushing him and encouraging him to ski to his potential! He credited part of his success to one of his competitors! I was so impressed to hear such an honest appreciation for a fellow athlete from Erik, even though he’d missed the gold by mere hundredths. I also remember Ivica Kostelic’s win in the men’s slalom at St. Moritz and his admiration and respect for the two competitors standing beside him on the podium, acknowledging that he was lucky to be standing next to such incredible men.

Yes, it’s always easier to be gracious when you’re on top but there have been many occasions where I’ve experienced such overwhelming moments of kindness from less-decorated athletes. These moments speak volumes to the integrity of so many ski racers.

The current world situation might give reason for mixed emotions among athletes but there remains a strong camaraderie throughout the nations. In a time where many ideals and cultures clash, there is a quiet in the storm. Some may say that I’m an optimist. I’d prefer to think of myself as one who believes in the purity of sport and is encouraged by the humanity of my fellow athletes. We are bombarded daily with negativity in our news. I find it so refreshing to find something positive and productive to write about.

Skiing is a small world but it’s a testimony to the importance of putting aside differences and embracing the beauty of athleticism and greatness. There will always be disagreements in our world yet I pray there is always the world of sports, where one is judged by talent, hard work and courage.

Note: Caroline Lalive, 23, is a member of the U.S. Ski Team. With Sarah Schleper, Chip Knight, Scott Macartney and Daron Rahlves, she contributes regularly to Ski Racing’s “Athlete Report.”

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