Squaw Valley Olympic ski racer Marco Sullivan retires after 15 years
Teams: 2014, 2010, 2006, 2002
9th, downhill, 2002
23rd, super G, 2010
30th, downhill, 2014
Teams: 2015, 2013, 2009, 2007, 2003
17th, super G, 2003
24th, downhill, 2003
25th, downhill, 2009
105 downhill starts (U.S. record)
Three top-10 downhill finishes, 2015
1st, downhill, Chamonix, 2008
2nd, DH, Lake Louise, 2007
3rd, DH, Wengen, 2009
4th in 2008 downhill standings
U.S. CHAMPIONSHIPS TITLES
2009, downhill, Alyeska
2007, downhill, Alyeska
2002, super G, Squaw Valley
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — In a 2006 interview with the Sierra Sun, Marco Sullivan, then 26, was asked how many more Olympics he planned to race.
“I will probably stick around till Vancouver (in 2010),” he said, “but I’m not going to measure my career timeline to coincide with the Olympics. I’m looking forward to skiing in some form for many more years. Right now I am obsessed with racing World Cup downhill. It is gnarly and very addicting.”
After 15 years and a U.S. record 105 World Cup downhill starts, Sullivan is kicking the addiction.
“Yeah, it’s kind of crazy, but I think it’s time,” said Sullivan, who turns 36 next month. “Unfortunately, it was kind of based on results. I didn’t have the greatest year, and I just found that when I was standing in the start gate, I didn’t have that fierce competitiveness to try to win every week. So I decided just a few weeks ago that it was time.
“But I have no regrets. I’m really happy about my career and to go as long as I did.”
Teammates and competitors alike will have to adjust to life on the World Cup circuit without one of its more good-natured souls.
After finishing 36th in Sunday’s super G in Kvitfjell, Norway — he was 18th in his final downhill Saturday — Sullivan exchanged goodbyes and some laughs with his racing cohorts in the finish area. He was presented by teammates with the timeless American Downhiller denim vest, which designates the fastest U.S. downhiller for the week. And, of course, he was doused with a champagne send-off.
“It didn’t really hit me until I was in the finish. I was taking in everything the whole day,” Sullivan said in an interview with the U.S. Ski Team. “It was especially nice to hear from all my competitors about how much they loved having me around.
“I guess they meant it,” he added with a laugh. “I always tried to be the guy who helped lift everyone’s spirit.”
Born and raised in Tahoe City, Sullivan grew up skiing and was racing by the age of 7 with the Squaw Valley Mitey Mites. Ski racing was in his genes as the nephew of local legend Mark “Sully” Sullivan, a longtime coach with the Squaw Valley Ski Team, and he quickly rose through the ranks under his uncle’s tutelage.
A four-event racer, Sullivan claimed a bronze medal in slalom at Junior Worlds in 2000 before honing his focus on speed events. He made his first World Cup start in 2001, the same year he won NorAm titles in the downhill, super G and overall.
Sullivan made his Olympic debut a year later in Salt Lake City, where he posted the top U.S. result with a ninth-place finish in the downhill. He then returned home to Squaw Valley and won the national super G title.
The Olympic performance in front of friends and family — along with his only career World Cup victory, in Chamonix in 2008 — are among his favorite ski racing memories.
He also remembers the struggles, and eventual rewards, of recovering from potential career-ending injuries, when the naysayers thought he was done. Sullivan sat out nearly two full seasons with knee injuries before returning to the World Cup in 2005. In all he suffered three ACL injuries in his career, as well as a severe concussion in 2011 that ended his season prematurely.
“I obviously had some injuries like a lot of racers, and I think being able to come back from those was pretty cool. A lot of times I was kind of considered to be down and out, and I fought my way back up. So I was definitely proud of that,” he said.
Sullivan is not quite ready to hang up his racing skis for good, however. He still has one race left this season — the U.S. Alpine Championships super G next week at Sun Valley, Idaho. After that, Sullivan will head to Alaska to try to defend his five consecutive wins in the Arctic Man, a high-speed endurance event in which skiers are pulled by a snowmobile.
After that, who knows?
“I’m pretty excited to take some time off and see what else is out there,” said Sullivan, who plans to move back to his Tahoe City home that he inherited from his uncle Sully. “I’ve been doing the ski racing for so long that I’m just looking forward to marching to my own drum for a few months here and see what happens.”
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