Graves on Nordic

See You at the Start Line This Win­ters

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Peter Graves

Not long ago, a young ski racer came up to me at a Hol­i­day race and waited po­litely for me to stop talk­ing into the mic. Then, with­out a hint of mean-spirit­ed­ness, he looked me in the eye and said, “Hey, why do you do this – re­ally, what is this an­nounc­ing at a ski race all about?”

It was a good, fair and well-timed ques­tion, given that I was out in the mid­dle of a snow­storm and was more than a lit­tle cold. I tried to give a thought­ful an­swer in the time al­lot­ted. I said that an an­nouncer helps get peo­ple to the start line on time, calls off the fin­ish times, does a bit of play-by-play and, oh yes, and tells the peo­ple gath­ered about the great spon­sors of the event. He seemed sat­is­fied with my an­swer, and went on his way to race in the Bill Koch League cat­e­gory.

The one thing I wished I had added for the lad, who was, maybe, 10 years of age, was “And by the way, it re­ally helps if you love it. That it moves you is an im­por­tant thing.”

The truth is, this goes back to my early days on skis, fall­ing in love with the sport and sur­round­ing my­self with both a lov­ing fam­ily and also in­cred­i­ble role mod­els such as Mike El­liott, Bob Gray, Mike Gal­lagher, Jimmy and Pat Miller, and many more.

My first Nordic-ski­ing pub­lic-an­nounc­ing (PA) gig, was, as best as I can re­call, in Du­rango, Colo. around 1973 do­ing the Fort Lewis Col­lege (FLC) Rocky Mountain Col­lege Car­ni­val's ski-jump­ing meet at Pur­ga­tory. Dolph Kuss, my FLC coach, had al­ways sup­ported and en­cour­aged me, and he gave the go-ahead for me to han­dle the PA du­ties. It was cool, it was fun and it gave me a pur­pose be­yond my own rac­ing.

From those most hum­ble days, I worked in ra­dio in Du­rango, in TV in New Mex­ico, and fi­nally was of­fered a job in Wis­con­sin's North­woods at the famed Tele­mark Lodge in Ca­ble by Tony Wise. He was a bun­dle of en­ergy, cre­ativ­ity and ki­netic pac­ing, the likes of which, to this day, I have never wit­nessed in any­one else. One of a kind, he was. One of Wise's great­est gifts was that he was a dreamer; he sim­ply saw things oth­ers didn't. Along the way, he made so many of us, touched by him, dream­ers too.

First hired as the Tele­mark pub­lic-re­la­tions di­rec­tor, Wise let me an­nounce pretty much ev­ery event he had: from the early days of the Birkie, to Hay­ward's Lum­ber­jack World Cham­pi­onships, to the first World Cup at Tele­mark and, yes, even Fourth of July fire­works. It was a won­der­ful train­ing ground and I just learned by do­ing, and by en­joy­ing. When I left Tele­mark to go to Nor­tur, Inc. in Min­neapo­lis, Minn., my dear friend Tom Kelly took my po­si­tion, while Wise and I main­tained a warm friend­ship that still in­cluded my an­nounc­ing his events.

It was in Novem­ber 1979 that in my Min­neapo­lis of­fice I got an un­ex­pected phone call from leg­endary ABC Sports pro­ducer Chuck Howard. “Might you be in­ter­ested,” he said, “in work­ing for us in Lake Placid.” It took me about a nanosec­ond to re­ply “Yes, of course.” Fol­low­ing an in­ter­view in the Big Ap­ple, I was on my way to Lake Placid and the 1980 Olympic Win­ter Games.

Thrilled, ebul­lient and very much on top of the world, I went into the tiny vil­lage in the Adiron­dacks. I quickly dis­cov­ered how tough net­work tele­vi­sion sports re­ally were and how many an­nounc­ers would fight and claw their way for more face time on the tube dur­ing an Olympic Games. I wasn't cut out for that kind of “be­hind-the-scenes ac­tion,” but I did my thing and it went okay. That led to a long­time gig with the up­start ESPN in Bris­tol, Conn., not many hours south of my home.

The build­ing was not even fin­ished when I went on the air with the late Jim Simp­son, a tal­ented and kindly gen­tle­man in the lat­ter stages of his ca­reer. We were do­ing voiceovers of ski events from Hol­menkollen to Lake Placid. Our mon­i­tors were placed high on card­board boxes. There were no work­ing toi­lets yet ei­ther; we had to use the porta potty out front. The rest, as they say, is his­tory. Now hav­ing wrapped up my 10th Olympic Games PA as­sign­ment in Rio, Brazil, I can look back with a sweet sense of joy and hum­ble­ness on just what a ride it's been.

With a bad knee now, I can't cross-coun­try ski much any­more, but I can alpine ski and I love it. Be­ing out­doors, with the smell of fresh air and the sun on the face im­parts to me a truly time­less qual­ity.

I love an­nounc­ing and be­ing around ath­letes and coaches. I don't care if it's an Olympic an­nouncer's suite or if I'm out on the porch. I don't care if it's an Olympic trial or a NENSA qual­i­fier. I love be­ing at the start of the Birkie and help­ing en­cour­age, in­spire and pre­pare rac­ers for their own per­sonal chal­lenge. I am so im­pressed and deeply moved by the ef­forts of ath­letes, ath­letes of any age. I thank you – you give me a rea­son to be, and I love you for that.

Maybe it's a feel­ing you could spend your life look­ing for. For me, I've found it at ski races, with a chair and hold­ing a wire­less mic.

And it's all be­cause of you! What a gift. I'll see you at the start line this win­ter.

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