Truckee’s Stacey Cook enjoying breakout season on World Cup
In her nine years on the U.S. Alpine Ski Team, Stacey Cook has learned not to concern herself with rankings or results.
You wouldn’t know it looking at her career-best season to date.
Cook, who grew up in Truckee, is currently ranked eighth in the World Cup downhill standings after recording yet another top-10 finish this past weekend in Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Her previous-best ranking in the downhill, her strongest discipline, was 17th in 2010.
Along with teammate Lindsey Vonn, who holds a large lead in the downhill and overall standings, and fellow Lake Tahoe native Julia Mancuso, who is sixth in the downhill standings and fifth overall, Cook’s U.S. women’s team is crushing the world powers of ski racing in the downhill. They lead Austria by 473 points.
“The U.S. women’s downhill team is absolutely the fastest nation in the world … Stacey is a big part of that,” said Doug Haney, Alpine press officer with the U.S. Ski Team.
A two-time Olympian with 147 career World Cup starts under her belt, Cook has polished her racing skills over the years and feels more confident than ever in 2012. Haney thinks she’s poised to earn the first podium of her career any race now.
Cook is not concerned about that, however. Of course, she’d be thrilled about a top-three finish, but she’s learned to hone her focus on the only thing she can control – her own racing performance. That mindset had paid off so far in 2012, evidenced by her quality finishes and newfound confidence on the hill.
The Sierra Sun caught up with Cook for a telephone interview Thursday from Bulgaria, which will host a pair of World Cup downhill races Saturday and Sunday. Check out what Cook had to say.
SS: You’re obviously having a great season, ranked eighth in the downhill standings. What do you attribute to your success?
“I think it’s just a cumulation of experience. I’ve definitely had a ton of ups and downs in my career, and I’ve learned and gotten more mature. I focus more now on what I can control and not so much about the things I can’t. And I think one of the big things is those rankings, those are something I can’t control. It’s great to be high in the standings, which is different from anything I’ve had in my career, but it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. What really matters is how I perform on a day-to-day basis now.”
SS: Do you feel like you’re a better skier at this point in your career than you ever have been?
“I think you definitely improve every prep period. The whole World Cup does. Everyone gets a little bit better every year. And it’s easy to say yes, I am a better skier than in the past. But I think a lot of it’s mental, too.”
SS: Do you enter each race with any particular goal in mind?
“I try to keep results-based goals away, because that’s so dependent on how the rest of the field performs on that given day. Obviously it’s easy to think, ‘I’d really love to get a podium,’ which I do; just being a competitive athlete it’s always there in your mind. But I know that thinking that isn’t the right step to get there. I think about how I’m going to ski and controlling my nerves and all that stuff.”
SS: What would you say are considered the prime years for an alpine ski racer?
“Um, I don’t know. That’s a hard question. I would say for girls, it’s more commonly earlier than 27. I think a lot of girls would not hold on this long, or a team would eliminate them based on an age criteria – even if you’re the third-best racer for your country. But as you get older, they expect more results. So I’ve been lucky to have coaches that have believed in me for so long. I think that earlier than 27 is generally when people have their best results. But I always have been kind of a late bloomer. I’m always trying to learn, and I never thought I was the most talented athlete out there. I’ve just tried to work hard my whole career and hopefully it pays off.”
SS: The American women are the best team in the world in downhill right now. What’s it like being a part of such a strong team?
“It’s really fun. I’ve been on both sides of it. Just like in my own career, my team’s career has had a lot of ups and downs too. We’re really lucky right now that everyone’s friends, everyone gets along, everyone supports each other, and no one wants to be outdone by anyone else. So there’s a really healthy competitive environment. It’s really fun to see smiles in the finish all the time. It helps to have a good team atmosphere, and we definitely have one right now.”
SS: Is there a camaraderie with the several Tahoe racers on the World Cup?
“Yeah. But I think when you’re younger, you associate yourself more with your region, and as you get older I don’t know if you do as much. But Julia (Mancuso) and I are close and I think always will be. And Marco (Sullivan) and Travis (Ganong), you can’t help but like them; they’re just such easy-going guys. So they definitely are people that inspire me, but I wouldn’t say it’s because we’re all from Tahoe, even though we do have similar lifestyles growing up in the same place.”
SS: Do you have a timetable for how long you want to continue racing?
“Um, no. I would love to get through the next Olympics, and after my last Olympics I really have a fire to get another shot at it. Even though my result wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t the experiences I was expecting with crashing and everything. So it was tough. That crash (in training) was out of my control. I was kind of put in a guinea pig situation. And then it just became a game to get back on the race course instead of trying to win, and so I want to go there and try to win. I want that experience too, and I have a lot of motivation based on that experience in Vancouver.”
SS: Would you say this is a breakout season for you? Can we call it that?
“Yeah, I think so. In a lot of ways you can look at every season as a breakout season in some ways – maybe not always positive, but you learn a lot. But results-wise, absolutely, this has been a breakout, especially with consistency. I don’t think I’ve ever had a good race and then backed it up with two more good races, let alone having the five or six that I’ve had this year.”
SS: Do you feel faster or stronger on your skis this year?
“I’m really happy with my equipment right now. I’m actually running on a men’s ski for the first time this year. And it’s so solid, it just feels so good. So I’m really happy to have worked with Rossignol to find that match. But I think it’s confidence, and my coaches would say that I’m just a lot more relaxed.”