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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of February 5 - 12, 2002


Alison Kiesel:
ĎI knew I could winí

Express Staff Writer

Alison Kiesel revolutionized American skiing without meaning to, without a revolutionary thought in her head, by just doing what came naturally to her. The 16-year resident of Ketchum, who grew up as Alison Owen in Wenatchee, Wash., remembers that "I started alpine skiing when I was about five. I loved it, but when I was 12 I was introduced to cross-country skiing and it became my passion. I liked to hike and run and cross-country fit right in."

When she was barely 13, in 1966, Kiesel qualified for the junior national championships in cross country. Her coach, Herb Thomas, who now lives in Ketchum, encouraged her and was a big influence on her skiing and her life. He took her to the championships in Winter Park, Colo., only to discover that, in 1966, girls didnít race in cross-country national championships. She had qualified with the boys in her division and met the criteria, but many of the other coaches and racers didnít want a girl to race. In 1966 American womenís athletics were still in the Stone Age, and, among other things, girls just didnít race in the national championships in cross-country. There wasnít even a womenís U.S. cross country team. But Alison wanted to race, her coach wanted her to race, and she had qualified to race. After some discussion, she did, beating some of the boys in the process.

"That didnít set too well with them," she said, but her results led to the formation of a U.S. womenís cross country ski team.

"There werenít many endurance sports open to girls at that time," she says. "I was a girl in a boyís world, so I had to beat the boys. Itís better now in some ways, but itís just as hard for girls and itís more complicated now."

Kiesel went on to have an outstanding career as a cross-country skier. No American woman has ever placed so well in international Nordic competition. She raced in the 1970, 1974 and 1978 World Championships, and in the 1972 and 1980 Olympics. She sat out the 1976 Olympics because she was attending Western State College in Gunnison, Colo.

Her best results were never in the World Championships or the Olympics. She was 23rd in the 1974 World Championships and 30th at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980. But she was 2nd in the prestigious Holmenkollen 10 kilometer World Cup race in Holmenkollen, Norway, two weeks after those Olympics, and she was often in the first 10 in World Cup events during her career. In 1979 she was 7th in the overall World Cup standings. But one of her finest moment came in Telemark, Wis., in 1978, when she won the first womenís World Cup cross country ski race.

Of that win she said to journalist Paul Robbins, paraphrasing Henry Ford, "If you think you can, or if you think you canít, youíre absolutely right. I remember how absolutely positive I was that I could win. I just wanted the chance to do it."

Kiesel retired from competitive skiing in 1981 at the age of 28. When asked why she quit, she replied, "Thatís a good question. In some ways I was just learning how to really race at that level, and physically and technically I might have kept going. I think I quit because of a cultural imprint that it was time for a woman to do something else. I didnít really need to quit then."

A 49-year-old divorced mother of two, Kiesel has raised her two children "in the Nordic lifestyle," and both are accomplished cross-country ski racers. "Itís a fun way to live and I love it."

Her son, Jess, 19, is spending this year in Sweden training and learning. Her daughter, Kaelin, 16, who is attending Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, Colo., also is following; in her motherís footsteps.

She is one of two Wood River Valley residents who attend Colorado Rocky Mountain School named to the Junior National Championships in Nordic skiing .

Kaelin Kiesel and Erin Magee, of Ketchum, will represent the small college-preparatory, boarding and day school at the Junior Nationals in McCall, Idaho, March 1 to 9.

Kaelin Kiesel also recently returned from Norway, where she raced for the U.S. Ski Team at the prestigious Scandinavian Cup ĺ the equivalent of the Junior Nationals in Scandinavia, where top Nordic skiers are national heroes.

The Nordic director at Ketchumís Thunder Spring and Zenergy, Alison Kiesel skis for herself nearly every day. And, now that her kids are raised, she is "toying" with the idea of training again and competing at the masterís level. After all, the Masterís World Championships in cross-country are being bid on by McCall for 2005.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.