Leanne Smith bound for Vancouver
Fundraiser Friday at Cranmore to help send Kennett grad's family to see her compete in Olympics
February 01, 2010CONWAY — Anybody who saw Leanne Smith ski during her high school days knew that she was going places.
With the announcement last week that Smith was one of 13-first time athletes named to the Olympic alpine ski team, it became apparent that the next place her talent is taking her is Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
"It's one of the most amazing things I've ever had happen to me," she said in a teleconference with worldwide media members on Thursday, Jan. 28. "February is going to be one of the best experiences of my life."
For Smith, the circle has come completely around from this time last year, when she was suffering from a torn ACL and couldn't compete.
"Less than a year ago I couldn't walk," she said. "I took a step back and realized what I needed to do to get back.
"I rehabbed as well as I could and worked hard all summer long," she continued. "I was back on snow six months after the injury and it all came back faster than I though it would."
Smith, who was in St. Moritz, Switzerland with the US team getting ready for the final World Cup race before the Olympics, also stepped it up in the week leading up to the naming of the Olympic team, as she recorded a top-20 finish the weekend of Jan. 23 and 24.
"I really stepped it up when I really needed to this past weekend," Smith noted.
The Kennett graduate did have a slight hiccup in her plans in the race on Jan. 29, as she had suffered a slight injury in training the previous day, so coaches opted to sit her for the slalom portion of the super-combined after she placed 19th in the Super-G portion of the event.
"Looking at the big picture, with two more speed races and the Olympics, we didn't want to take any chances," women's speed coach Alex Hoedlmoser said.
Smith returned to action on Saturday, Jan. 30 in St. Moritz and was one of seven Americans to score points in the downhill, as she raced to 18th overall in a time of 1:43.50.
While it was not completely clear which event or events Smith would be competing in when she gets to Vancouver, nbcolympics.com has reported that she is at least expected to compete in the super-combined, which combines downhill and slalom (one run of each) and is the first women's alpine skiing event of the Olympic Games, being held on Sunday, Feb. 14.
Smith will join a team that includes double World Champion Lindsey Vonn, in her third Olympic Games and 2006 Olympic gold medalist Julia Mancuso. Sarah Schleper will be making her fourth Olympic appearance and Stacey Cook will be in her second Olympic Games. Joining Smith on the women's side as first-time Olympians will be Hailey Duke, Chelsea Marshall, Megan McJames, Alice McKennis and Kaylin Richardson.
The men's team features Franconia's Bode Miller, racing in his fourth Olympic Games, Marco Sullivan in his third and Ted Ligety, Steven Nyman and Keene's Jimmy Cochran each in their second. Newcomers on the men's side include Will Brandenburg, Erik Fisher, Tommy Ford, Tim Jitloff, Nolan Kasper, Andrew Weibrecht and Jake Zamansky.
"We have a great team going in," Smith said during the teleconference. "We've got an older group of girls going who have had some success and we've got a group of eager newcomers who hope to bring success to the team."
Vonn agreed with her teammate's assessment of the women's team heading to Vancouver.
"I think it's a really strong group of girls," she noted. "I'm really happy with the team that was chosen. We have a lot of talented, hard-working girls, it's going to be cool to see it all come together."
Vonn will be competing in five events in Vancouver and has essentially become the face of the Olympic advertising on NBC, which will air coverage of the games.
In the Valley
In the Mount Washington Valley, news of Smith's selection was widely publicized. The daughter of Joe and Paula Smith of Conway, the newest Olympian was a three-sport athlete at Kennett, where she also starred on the soccer and softball fields and was a star student as well. Her sister, Laurel, is currently a teacher at Kennett and coaches the school's alpine ski team.
"She was a great skier then and she continued that on after she left us," said Kennett ski coach Chuck Broomhall.
What Broomhall remembers most about Smith, however, was the fact that no matter what she had going on as far as racing outside of the high school level, she always made sure she had enough races to qualify for the state meet to represent the school.
"She felt skiing for the high school was very important to her," he said. "She made sure she could do what she needed to do to be qualified to ski for Kennett."
Broomhall pointed out that he often says that Kennett High School could really be considered one of the best ski academies in the country when all is said and done.
"You can ski for Dave (Gregory, coach of the Mount Washington Valley Ski Team, as Smith did) and still ski for us and can still be eligible to ski in the state meets and you're not spending $40,000 to got away for high school."
Smith also offered her thanks to the coaches that encouraged her and worked with her throughout her career growing up at her home mountain of Cranmore, where her father Joe has been employed as a groomer.
"Throughout my career I've had a lot of people who have supported me," she said. "I've had so many friends and family support me, I couldn't be more happy."
Broomhall noted that the Mount Washington Valley has certainly seen its fair share of Olympians, dating back more than 60 years and he expects that Smith won't be the end of the line.
"There could be plenty more to come," he noted.
And as is the case when something great happens to someone from the Valley, the local community has rallied and will be raising funds for Smith's family to head to Vancouver to see her compete.
Cranmore Mountain Resort will be hosting a fundraiser on Friday, Feb. 5. Put on by Cranmore and the Eastern Slope Ski club, the event will take place on Feb. 5 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Eating House and will feature a silent auction, Chinese auction, appetizers from Valley Original restaurants, a cash bar and live music from Hey Yeti plus singer/guitarist Kathy Bennett.
A $5 donation is requested at the door and all proceeds will go to help Smith's family fund the trip to Vancouver. Additionally, Cranmore will donate 25 percent of tubing park ticket sales from 4 to 7 p.m. that evening to the cause as well.
"Leanne is truly a Cranmore kid. She took lessons from Cranmore Snowsports School, took part in Cranmore's Rattlesnake seasonal ski program and then onto the Cranmore Race Team," said Snowsports School Director Karen Dolan.
Additional donations can be made the day of the event and businesses wishing to donate items for the auction should contact Cranmore by Thursday, Feb. 4, at 356-5544 ext. 352. Donations are tax-deductible and should be made payable to Eastern Slope Ski Club, a registered 501C(3) non-profit organization.
Additionally, TD Bank has also established an account for the family. Donations may be sent to PO Box 1576, Conway, NH 03818 or dropped off at one of the banks' four local branches.
"When they see somebody going on to the Olympics, they step forward they are going to support this individual and make sure they don't have to worry about the financial aspect and their family doesn't have to worry about the financial aspect," said Broomhall of the great support the Mount Washington Valley community puts behind its athletes.
The Olympics kick off on Friday, Feb. 12 and alpine events start on Saturday, Feb. 13, with the men's downhill.
The women get under way with the super-combined on Sunday, Feb. 14. The downhill portion runs at 10 a.m. (PT) and the slalom at 1 p.m. (PT). NBC will be broadcasting the event later in the evening with their primetime coverage, which begins at 7 p.m.
The women continue with the downhill on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 11 a.m. (PT) and the Super-G on Saturday, Feb. 20, at 10 a.m. (PT). The women's giant slalom is set for Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 10 a.m. (PT) for the first run and 1:15 p.m. (PT) for the second run. The women's slalom runs Friday, Feb. 26, with the first run at 10 a.m. (PT) and the second run at 1:30 p.m. (PT).
Check nbcolympics.com for official airing times for all events.