New York Giant A move from Park City to the Big Apple has helped Erik Schlopy return to the giant slalom elite

December 02, 2002

The guys around Erik Schlopy's Harlem neighborhood would watch
him curiously as he went through his workout routine last summer.
They'd see him do squats while balanced on railings; they'd see
him quick-step up and down stairs; they'd see him furiously pedal
his wife's basket-and bell-equipped girl's bike around the
Central Park loop like Mary Poppins on speed. And they'd ask him,
"What are you, a boxer?" Schlopy would usually say yes rather
than explain that he was a world-class skier who was used to
doing things the hard way.

Schlopy did it the hard way again at the World Cup giant slalom
race in his former hometown of Park City, Utah, last Friday when
he emerged from the 41st start position to finish fifth on the
sunbaked course, the top performance by an American and his best
World Cup finish since March 2001. "I had confidence going into
this race, but I didn't think it would go as well as it did,
starting where I was starting," said Schlopy, who at 30 is the
second-oldest skier on the U.S. men's Alpine team. "Something
like this can launch me into a lot of great results."

Schlopy's two strong runs in the GS revealed some much needed
depth in a U.S. men's team that had been, with the exception of a
fifth-place finish by Olympic double silver medalist Bode Miller,
a huge disappointment at the World Cup GS opener in Soelden,
Austria, in October. When Miller lost a ski early in his first
run on Friday, the team appeared headed for another mediocre
performance. Then Schlopy delivered. "It's fantastic to have
another guy slam right in there, take the spotlight and have a
great day," says men's Alpine coach Phil McNichol, who had two
other skiers, Dane Spencer and Thomas Vonn, finish in the top 27.
"I'm not surprised it was Erik because he's clearly good enough
to dominate at the World Cup level. But because he has been
struggling, I was just hoping for him to have a good day, a top
10 finish."

After ranking third in the world in the giant slalom in 2001, the
best GS showing by an American man since 1983, Schlopy entered
last season as an Olympic medal favorite, the hometown hero whose
picture would be plastered all over the sides of buses in Park
City in February. But while fighting bronchitis and a tenacious
fatigue that came on in August 2001 and was belatedly diagnosed
as mononucleosis, he missed weeks of training and turned in
consistently subpar performances on the World Cup tour. After
eight top 10s in the 2000--01 season, he had zero last season. "I
was thinking there was something seriously wrong with me," says
Schlopy, who finished a disappointing 13th in the Olympic slalom.
"Maybe it was just that I hadn't recovered from all that sickness
and was out of shape from missing all that training. Or maybe
not. You start second-guessing yourself. People told me I wasn't
trying hard enough. So I tried harder, and that just made it
worse. I learned a lesson--if I'm going to win races, it won't be
by trying harder, it'll be by eliminating mistakes, by making
choices to take chances in places I can, by following a process."

This isn't the first time Schlopy, a Buffalo native who adheres
to that city's blue-collar work ethic, has overcome challenges in
his career. At the 1993 world championships he suffered a broken
back and displaced sternum in a downhill training run, but he
rebounded to make the Lillehammer Olympics, at which he finished
34th in the GS. After leaving the U.S. team for four years and
racing on the pro circuit, he rejoined the squad in '99 in
anticipation of the Salt Lake Games. From a world ranking of
136th in the GS in '99, he climbed to third two years later.
"What's the disadvantage of being ranked last in the world and
starting in the back of the pack in skiing?" asks Schlopy. "I
think of a tennis analogy: You have to play all the best guys,
but someone has taken a shovel and made a bunch of holes and
pockmarks on your side of the court so the ball bounces funny."

So maybe it wasn't much of a stretch for Schlopy to find a
skier's dryland training paradise in potholed New York City,
where he moved last summer with his wife, Nnenna Lynch-Schlopy,
a Big Apple native and former middle-distance runner who's now a
financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs. "I made a commitment to
living in New York, so I have to make it work for me," says
Schlopy, who shares an apartment with Miller near Innsbruck,
Austria, during the World Cup season. "Honestly, it's a little
scary. It's all new. I don't have any ski-racing buddies to work
out with, and I don't have that support from my family that I had
when I lived in Park City. But I think I'm going to be better for
it in the long run." One might argue that he already is.

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN SELKOWITZ/NEWSPORT I [LOVE] N.Y. After a summer of training in Manhattan, Schlopyfinished a solid fifth in the World Cup GS in Utah last week. COLOR PHOTO: LORI ADAMSKI-PEEK (INSET) [See caption above]