On January 24, 2017, over 60,000 wild fans showed up at the Audi FIS World Cup night race in Schladming, Austria—an annual tradition just two hours down the road from the weekend’s races at Kitzbuehel.
It was an insane crowd to start with. But it got more so after a relatively unknown, independent (read: not on the U.S. Ski Team) skier from Vermont named Robby Kelley (see our full story on Kelley’s grassroots racing program, Revenge of the Redneck Racers), came down the course. What really set them off was when he fell, got up, hiked back up the course and finished his second run.
Kelley, who grew up ski racing at his family’s tiny Cochran Ski Area (his mother is former U.S. Ski Teamer Lindy Cochran) in Richmond not only turned in the best finish of any American, but did so in his own inimitable style.
He finished 25th on the first run, earning him a second run. He was skiing fast on the second run when he fell just short of the finish.
” I was going for it. I was happy with my intensity of the bottom—I was really trying to make up some time down there. I had a good bottom split first run, but I couldn’t quite keep up with myself. I got jetted out and as I was sliding—I was thinking ‘please stop so I can hike before I cross the finish line!’
Kelley did manage to stop. The he hiked back up to go ski through the gates and officially finish. The crowd exploded.
“I just want to cross the finish line every time I go. I basically always hike. It’s something I’ve always done,” Kelley said at the press conference after. “My parents told me to never give up, so I wanted to cross that finish line.”
Kelley ended up less than 50 seconds out of first place but was able to earn World Cup slalom points for the second time this season. He was the only American to qualify for the second run and finish.
“I’m tired—very tired—but it was worth it! It was a great feeling to cross the finish at one of the most popular World Cup events. This is the best race of the year. ” Still, he added: “I would have liked to be 48 seconds faster than I was, so I’m a little disappointed.”
From reporting by USSA/U.S. Ski Team.