- Alpine Skiing
Jackie Wiles embodies a bit of her childhood idol Picabo Street
KRASNAYA POLYANA — When she got to the bottom of the run Saturday, after a time that would land her in fourth place in the third training run for Wednesday’s women’s Olympic downhill, Jackie Wiles, the 21-year-old newcomer on the team, found herself ushered along through the pen where the athletes talk to reporters and TV types, and there, hanging out with the press, was, well, Picabo.
Some people might be all, like, OMG — that’s Picabo Street, maybe the greatest power and speed skier of all time.
Not Jackie Wiles. She snapped to immediately, of course, because she understood she was in the presence of American ski royalty. But the reason Jackie Wiles is now going to be racing in the downhill, and the reason she is skiing in a way that suggests she very well might throw a huge surprise on Wednesday, is that she was hardly overwhelmed — even though this was the same Picabo Street whose picture she, Jackie Wiles, used to have in her room growing up.
Politely, respectfully, she told Picabo, “I had a picture of you on my wall — obviously,” like of course it would be obvious, adding, “In middle school, when I was little.”
At the Olympic Games, some athletes just seem to have it. They seem unfazed by the noise, the attention, the distraction. Jackie Wiles, from small-town Aurora, Ore., seems unburdened by the bigness of the Olympics. She is here to ski, and to ski fearlessly.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Spotlight: Jacqueline Wiles
In her three training runs, Wiles has finished 12th (1.62 seconds behind), 12th (1.22 back) and, on Saturday, fourth (.62 behind). As the numbers show, she is getting stronger as Race Day nears.
All the more impressive is that she produced a fourth though she started 35th. It is unusual at an elite ski race for a racer dealt a start position later than 25 or 30 to break through to the top.
The U.S. coaches later Saturday picked Wiles for the last of the four spots in Wednesday’s race — even though, as she acknowledged, the fourth-place finish had come amid a missed gate high on the course and left her uncertain about her prospects.
She nonetheless said she was producing the “best skiing of my life right now,” adding, “If they take me, it would be an amazing experience — if not, I’m proud of myself for what I’ve already done.”
Ross finished fifth in Saturday’s training, Cook sixth, Mancuso eighth.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Sochi Olympics: Third women's downhill training
Leanne Smith, fighting sinus problems, finished 22nd Saturday. She will be the one left off Wednesday’s start list.
Wiles’ fourth Saturday is just the latest step in an incredible progression. She was a C-teamer not so many months ago. Then, last December, she won the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championship downhill at the U.S. Ski Team speed center at Copper Mountain, Colo. Her first World Cup start had come just a couple weeks before that; in her ninth start, on Jan. 24, in a downhill at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, she finished 15th.
How, she was asked, have you been able to ski these Olympic training races with such abandon?
“I just have to come and let everything go and have fun,” she said.
“It’s all I’ve been trained to do. I have dreamed about this since I was little. Just being here is incredible. So I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. I’m just having fun and [going to] charge. If i just charge, that’s the best I can do, [and] a good result can come from it.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Sochi Olympics: Second women's downhill training
Picabo, here for Fox Sports, took all this in with keen interest. When Picabo was skiing, charging — full speed ahead — was her mantra. Jackie Wiles was speaking Picabo’s language.
Picabo, living now in Alabama and the mother of four young boys — ages 10, 9, 4 and 3 — leaned in close to talk. This was before the announcement of who was going to get that fourth spot:
“Look at your video, no matter what. OK? Watch this video tonight, no matter what?”
“Yeah,” Wiles said.
“And break your skiing down inside your head, no matter what.”
“Whether you go in or not, OK. Because this is another run. You found something out now, so — “
Embedded owg_slideshow: Sochi Olympics: First women's downhill training
“Something to learn from,” Wiles agreed.
“Yeah, so put that — file that …”
“So dissect this run no matter what, whether they pull you in or not. And if they pull you in — boom, yeah, just — all in front, reach, reach, reach, reach, reach, right, cock the ankle and reach …”
Smiles all around.
“You can coach me now,” Jackie Wiles said.
“It was nice to meet you,” Picabo Street said.
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