Stein Eriksen, Olympic champion Alpine skier, dies at 88

Stein Eriksen
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Stein Eriksen had the perfect hair, the perfect form on the hill and typically the perfect line down the course.

So stylish and graceful on the slopes — he could even perform impressive tricks — the Norwegian great helped usher in modern skiing. He died Sunday at his home in Park City, Utah. He was 88.

His death was confirmed by Deer Valley Resort, where Eriksen served as director of skiing for more than 35 years.

Eriksen rose to prominence at the 1952 Winter Olympics in his hometown of Oslo when he captured gold in the giant slalom and silver in the slalom. Two years later, he won three gold medals at the World hampionships in Are, Sweden.

“To be an Olympic and World champion has been a trademark for me,” Eriksen said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune in 2009. “But the appreciation that the American people have for champions has enhanced that value in a way that made it possible for me to enjoy life without too much effort.”

The charismatic Eriksen became the face of the sport and portrayed it in a new, exciting way. His somersaults were epic — and an early prelude to the tricks in freestyle skiing.

“He’s a legend,” Norwegian World Cup racer Kjetil Jansrud said.

Although from Norway, Eriksen lived in the U.S. for the last six decades, holding one position after another at various ski resorts around the country. He was director of skiing and a ski school instructor at Snowmass, Colo. He taught skiing at Sugarbush, Vt. He even owned his own shop in Aspen, Colo., in addition to being the ski school director.

There were also stops in Heavenly Valley, Calif., and Boyne Mountain, Mich., before settling in at Deer Valley.

“His influence in the ski industry and at this resort was infinite and his legacy will always be a fundamental aspect of Deer Valley,” said Bob Wheaton, Deer Valley president and general manager. “He was a true inspiration.”

So much so that he became an honored member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1982, one of the many awards and accolades he received throughout his lifetime. According to a Deer Valley release, Eriksen even earned the Knight First Class honor in 1997 by His Majesty the King of Norway as a reward for outstanding service in the interest of his country.

This much also is certain: Eriksen left an indelible impression with Norwegian racers.

“It’s sad that he’s gone, but he had a lot of cool experiences in his lifetime and I’m guessing he was blessed and happy with what he accomplished,” said Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who won Olympic gold, silver and bronze at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.

As an up-and-coming racer, Jansrud was once invited to Eriksen’s house — along with the rest of the Norwegian team — and regaled with story after story.

“He did a back flip every day at noon in Park City until he was like 80 years old,” Jansrud said. “He was doing what he loved.”

About that hair, it was always styled just right. Or as Jansrud said, “flawless.”

Same with the way he skied. He made turns on a hill look so elegant.

“I guess that’s why he went to the U.S. and got on the pro [tour]. He was way too smooth for World Cup,” Jansrud joked.

Tiger Shaw, the president of U.S. skiing, said in a statement that Eriksen’s “legacy will live on in the ski racers of today and in the sport he loved so much.”

As a show of respect, the torch outside the Deer Valley lodge bearing Eriksen’s name was extinguished.

“His celebrity charisma created a special ambiance whether within the Lodge, our restaurant or out on the mountain, that was warm and inviting,” said Dennis Suskind, the president of Stein Eriksen Lodge. “He was a real friend and will be missed.”

Eriksen is survived by his wife, Francoise; son, Bjorn; three daughters, Julianna, Ava and Anja; and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, Stein Jr.

In 1994, Eriksen helped carry the Olympic Flag into the Lillehammer Winter Games Opening Ceremony.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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