Jagge’s golden touch
August 24, 2004
A national postage stamp made in an athlete’s honor sounds like an homage fit for a sports celebrity the likes of Michael Jordan, but only if you’re coming from an American point-of-view.
“In my country I am (a celebrity),” said retired Norwegian alpine skier Finn Christian Jagge. “If you’re a (successful) skier in middle Europe, you’re like Michael Jordan. They make stamps and everything out of you.”
That may sound slightly egotistical, but that is the last adjective one would use to describe Jagge. Listen to the 38-year-old and his words are humble. But behind the self-deprecation, there is a touch of pride about his hard-earned Olympic gold medal alpine career.
About a month ago, he was named head coach of the Sugar Bowl Ski Academy located on Donner Summit. In a recent interview in Truckee, Jagge described his life right now as a bit chaotic due to the recent move to town with his wife, Trine-Lise, and their son and daughter.
With most of his photos still in boxes, the only readily available pictures Jagge could give to the Sierra Sun were two postcards featuring him blasting through a slalom course, each card bearing the stamp made in his honor. Jagge was honored in 1993 by Norway after his gold medal performance in the Men’s Slalom in the 1992 Albertville Olympic Games. Other gold medalists, a speed skater and two Nordic skiers from Norway, were also bestowed with stamps, he noted.
Jagge also competed in the 1988 (Calgary), 1994 (Lillehammer) and 1998 (Nagano) Winter Olympics.
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In addition to his Olympic gold, the new Truckee resident was also a winner of seven World Cup races from 1991 to 2000, the year he retired from competitive ski racing.
Coach Jagge is now turning his focus to younger skiers who want to have an equally ” or more ” successful career than his own.
“(The Sugar Bowl Academy) skiers have the same goals I had when I was a kid, so I can pretty much relate to what they want to do,” he said. “They want to become the next Bode Miller or the next champion of the world.”
Jagge said 350 skiers are currently in the program from grades six through 12. He will oversee the entire skiing program, but Jagge’s on-the-hill training will be primarily concerned with J1 and J2 skiers in Far West, comprised of children age 15 to 18. Some will have the opportunity to compete in higher level races like NorAm, a few levels below World Cup competition.
“It’s obviously going to take a little time,” Jagge said about his goals for the program. “That’s what I’m going to teach them; obviously technically how to do it, but mentally how to prepare for being on the World Cup.”
Jagge also hopes to increase the academy’s reputation among aspiring young skiers across the country.
“Our goal as a school, and as a ski team, is to be the number-one choice for any young skier who has the goal to make the Olympics one day,” he said. “What I want is to have (the emphasis on) racing.”
Right now, as Jagge sees it, Park City, Utah, and Colorado are the most attractive regions for young skiers in the western United States. Plus, the main region for producing World Cup and Olympic athletes is on the East Coast, he said. Strengthening the Sugar Bowl Ski Academy nationally starts with ambitious goals: Jagge wants to produce a World Cup champion in the next five or six years through his academy, he said.
For the past two years, Jagge was a coach at the Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. Schools like Burke Mountain and Sugar Bowl coordinate a special program of academic studies with training and racing schedules for alpine and Nordic skiing. The two years at Burke Mountain were Jagge’s first as a bona fide coach, but he also organized his own ski school in Norway, he said.
After living in the very small town of East Burke, Vt., Jagge said he jumped at the opportunity to come to Truckee.
“At least here you can get a decent cup of coffee,” he said. “You couldn’t even get that (in East Burke).”
There is also a bit of Jagge family history in the Tahoe area for the transplant. Jagge’s mother, Liv, also a downhiller, competed in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics at age 17 and also finished seventh in the slalom in the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
“I’ve always heard about Squaw Valley,” he said in reference to his mother, “so coming here now is really big for me ” to see the Sierra Mountains.”
Filling out Jagge’s athletic pedigree even more is his father, Finn Dag. He was a professional tennis player who participated at several Grand Slam tournaments.
Jagge showcased that athleticism as a member of the Norwegian National Men’s Ski Team for 17 years (1983-2000) and has been skiing “ever since I could walk,” he said, which is not a surprise when skiing is basically the national sport in Norway.
He said he is now becoming more fond of his accomplishments after being retired more than four years now.
“I’m getting more proud of it, looking back,” he said. “Like the Olympics, when I’m right in it, all I can think about is winning the next race. I was just competing in my sport.”
He said if he had it to do over again, he would have paid more attention to the spectacle that is the Olympics.
“I wasn’t focused on any other sports. From four Olympics, one hockey game is about what I’ve seen. We kind of train on our own, then compete and get out of there.”
Jagge’s last year of ski racing competition was in 2000, at the age of 34. But like in other sports, he sees the age boundary in professional skiing become more blurred every year. For example, with an athlete like Barry Bonds setting a new precedent for a 40-year-old player in Major League Baseball, it creates a bigger challenge for a younger player trying to break into the professional level and for the coaches who teach them.
“All the racers are getting older and older,” Jagge said. “That’s happening everywhere. Look at even baseball and basketball. They push their limits because they’re well-paid. You can’t get a better life than being a professional athlete, and that’s what’s happening in skiing, which makes it harder for younger skiers to come up. You got to kick them off the team. They just don’t quit on their own.”
His transition from competitor to coach has been smooth, even though he still misses racing.
“I don’t think there’s a better job than to compete,” he said, “but I couldn’t do that anymore. This is the second-best thing I think. I’m still out there with the kids, and I get to be on the hill in the sport I love.”
As far as Michael Jordan status, Jagge realizes he’s not the icon MJ has grown to be ” in America, at least, but he’s OK with that.
“(Coming to Truckee) is a little different,” he said. “Although in the ski world people know who I am, I’m not recognized like I would be in Norway. Here I can walk in the streets, and it’s a little more quiet.”
[For more information about Sugar Bowl Ski Academy, visit http://www.sbacademy.org. For more information about Finn Christian Jagge, visit http://www.ski-and-ski.com/Patrick/Bio/Jagge.htm.%5D