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Vt.'s Ryan Cochran-Siegle reflects on his Olympic win in Beijing

A photo showing an alpine skier on a snowy slope going past a blue gate with the Olympic rings on it.
Luca Bruno
Associated Press
Ryan Cochran-Siegle of the United States holds his silver during the medal ceremony for the men's super-G at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing.

It took a little more than a minute for a Vermont native to pen a family sequel 50 years in the making. Ryan Cochran-Siegle won the silver medal in the men's super-G at the Beijing Winter Games this month.

He’s now back in his home state, where his accomplishment is being properly celebrated by friends, family and even people he's never met.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Ryan Cochran-Siegle about his Olympic win. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: First, congratulations on the amazing run and the silver medal. How did it feel when you landed at Burlington International Airport? I understand you had quite a crowd to greet you there.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle: Yeah, it was a bit overwhelming. I knew there was going to be a few people, I wasn't sure how many. Getting off the plane walking through the gate, and just seeing how many people were there was pretty breathtaking, I think.

It was cool seeing so many young kids. Some of my younger cousins were dressed in their speed suits and ski boots still just getting off the hill. And, you know, I think this celebration is just about so many people that have been a part of this journey.

I want to put this medal into perspective, because it was just about a year ago that you were actually undergoing neck surgery after a crash on the slopes that left you with a fractured vertebra. I mean, had you not won a medal at all in these games, I think just competing in them would have been an astonishing accomplishment given that.

After your crash a year ago, Ryan, did you ever consider actually retiring from competitive skiing? Did that thought ever enter your head?

Not, I think, explicitly. I obviously wanted to take it day by day, and recognize that I was given an opportunity to come back, and I wanted to fulfill that as much as I could.

I think ski racing definitely comes with risks, and I've always recognized that. And I think, obviously, it's a scary injury, very close to having more severe long-term costs.

But I've been fortunate to be able to walk away from it, and really, I think move forward from it as well. So, I think the first couple of days that I was injured and waiting to see what the path was, it became apparent to me that I would be able to make a full recovery. And so that's where my head was at from then on.

More from Vermont Edition: Winter Olympics update: One Vermonter's silver and another's stunning defeat

Your silver medal winning time in the super-G was 1:19.98. That's a mere .04 seconds behind gold medal winner Matthias Mayer of Austria, but you know, that’s skiing. You know this — the margin of difference like that, pretty common in the sport.

What I'd like to know, though, Ryan, is whether there was a single split-second moment, maybe even a longer one during that silver medal run, when you thought to yourself, “Hey, you know what, I may be on track for a medal here — things are going that well.”

Or, is there just that focus — with no actual thoughts about where you might finish — going through your head during the run?

My focus was just on the gate in front of me the whole time I was going down. I know that, in my head, I recognized I was skiing the way that I wanted to be skiing.

Once I got through the last double before the finish, I landed, and it's just the straight tuck to the finish — I think in my head, I was kind of like, “You know, I should be proud of that run.” I have no idea if I'm really fast or slow, but just crossing the finish line, and really, I think, putting everything on the line, and is what I felt.

"So I didn't count it until the race was over and they started putting out the podium that I actually won the medal."
Ryan Cochran-Siegle

When did you realize you had won the silver? It wasn't right after you finished and saw your time, was it?

No, because I mean, I didn't watch any of the racers before me. So, I wasn't sure, you know, how Matthias skied or Kilde who was in third at the time. But I think, you know, recognizing that I did give myself the chance was pretty special coming into the finish.

I was watching every single racer come down after me to make sure that that no one, you know, came in. So I didn't count it until the race was over and they started putting out the podium that I actually won the medal.

You know, it's hard not to talk about your family's incredible Olympic and competitive skiing legacy with this finish, because it happened nearly 50 years to the day that your mother Barbara Ann won gold in the women's slalom in Japan.

Can you tell us what she said when you were first able to speak with her after winning the silver medal?

Yeah, she was just so excited. I think she said how proud she was. Both my sister and I were on the phone call. And you know, it's just an emotional time. I think it was cool, obviously her having won an Olympic medal before as well, and now that I get to share that with her, is just a special connection we have.

I'm not sure if you've had a chance to let all of this really sink in. But can you let us know what's next for you? What are your plans?

Yeah, I have, you know, a good week off. And then I go back right back over to Europe at the end of the month to get ready for the last few World Cups of the season.

So, my head's still in the racing game. My season’s not over. There's still good amount of racing left. And obviously I think once springtime hits, maybe getting a little bit more of a break and just back to normal life. But it's been an exciting week, for sure.

More from VPR News: A walk in the woods with Thetford’s John Morton, Olympic biathlete and renowned trail designer

To say the least. One more thing, Ryan, you know, so many Vermonters have learned to ski at the hill that bears your family's name in Richmond, my own daughter included. And it would be one thing just to bask in the glory of being one of the greatest skiers in the world, but what is the legacy of teaching others to ski and your family’s involvement in that area mean to you?

It's the community that I grew up in. And I think, along with benefiting from, I mean, so many good skiers and really good Vermont conditions, I think it's also about being able to give back and try to keep this culture alive.

I'm sitting here in the lodge right now, and every time I drive up that little driveway and enter the parking lot and see the hill, it brings a smile to my face.

It's a special place, and I just want to do what I can to keep this going, so that I think the next generation of skiers can have similar dreams that I grew up with.

Have questions, comments, or concerns? Send us a message or tweet your thoughts to @mwertlieb.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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