Vail’s Sarah Schleper gears up for fifth Olympics
When the Mexico delegation enters the opening ceremony of next month’s Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, you’ll see someone familiar.
Vail’s Sarah Schleper will be the flag bearer.
“This has me almost as excited as the racing. This is a huge honor,” Schleper said from Italy, where she is training. “Although I wasn’t born in Mexico, I feel really connected to the country. I think it’s hard for some people to understand why I would change nationalities and where my patriotism is, but they have to understand that half of my family is Mexican.”
Schleper, 39, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Ski Team, married to Federico Gaxiola in 2007, became a Mexican citizen in 2014 and has been competing for Mexico, including the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek as well as in St. Moritz, Switzerland, at 2017 Worlds.
And Pyeongchang will be her fifth Olympics.
“I am looking forward to going to the other side of the world for this Olympic Games,” Schleper said. “I was in (Nagano,) Japan, when I was 19, and that seems like another lifetime.”
Schleper is spending this winter in Castlerotto, Italy, in the German-speaking portion of the Dolomites. Schleper is training there with her children, Lasse, 9, and Resi, 4.
Skiing’s important, but so is the kids learning a new language, German, in addition to English and Spanish.
Schleper tore her ACL in June. She is no stranger to injuries, including one that sidelined her for the 1999 Worlds in Vail. Schleper also had a major back injury not long after what was the pinnacle of her career, a slalom win at the World Cup Finals in slalom in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on March 12, 2005.
“I am here to train and recover,” she said. “Federico decided to stay in Vail to work, so we could have some sort of income, while I brought the kids to do therapy, and start my return to snow. I am now fully recovered since the beginning of December.”
It’s a juggling act. Schleper has been cycling Resi to school, and young Lasse, who turns 10 at the end of the month, is learning how to take buses to get around.
This is a big part of the second phase of her skiing career. Schleper wants to use the sport to transcend international boundaries. Her family is doing it and she leads by example.
“Mexico is a wonderfully vibrant and beautiful nation,” she said. “We have a lot of Mexicans coming to Vail and it is such a great connection for my family and my roots. I will carry the flag high and with the utmost respect. I hope to connect the gap between the USA and Mexico.”
To that end, Schleper is working with Ski & Snowboard Vail, coaching young Mexican skiers. She is taking one of her pupils to Trofeo Topolino, a winter sports festival in Italy, in March and another to the Youth Olympics.
Because of her injury last summer, Schleper has been limited in her racing action. She plans to compete in the World Cup giant slalom on Tuesday, Jan. 23, in Kronplatz, Italy.
“It’s going to be a very technical slope and injected with water, so I am going to use it mostly as training because I haven’t been on these conditions since my recovery.”
While Schleper competed in all five disciplines at the 2017 Worlds — and really loved returning to the speed events — she’s focusing on the GS in Pyeongchang in February.
Team Schleper will be there in force with both sides of the family.
“Expectations are hard to say since I haven’t raced after being injured,” Schleper said. “I just want to go out and ski clean and with tempo and do a performance I am proud of. It’s hard to put a number on that. The girls are skiing so well. It will be great to be in the top arena again.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.