Love for sport fuels Stiegler’s lengthy career

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Resi Stiegler may not match her father’s medal total, but she has already beaten him in one Olympic category.

Stiegler’s third Olympic selection this year means she has passed father Pepi in appearances at the Winter Games.

The Austrian dominated the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, racking up a gold, silver and bronze over five starts in three disciplines. But Pepi, 80, didn’t have the staying power his resilient daughter has.

Resi previously said she doesn’t have the ammo to boast to her decorated father. Yet Pepi said his first-born has all the right to do so.

“Yes, she can,” he said.

Stiegler’s mother, Carrie, will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to watch her daughter race on Valentine’s Day. She agrees with Pepi that Resi’s third Olympics is cause for friendly family smack talk.

“I hope it doesn’t cause a rift in the family,” Carrie said with a laugh. “But she definitely gets bragging rights.”

From an early age Resi displayed the characteristics that made her father the best slalom skier in the world. But Carrie said her daughter’s pedigree simply set the foundation for her own personal success.

“I think she has her own talent,” Carrie told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “Resi was very comfortable on skis since age 2. We had such a wonderful situation in Jackson Hole with a group of local kids that skied together under the auspices of the ski club.

“And coaches like Nathan Emerson who took such good care and watched over the kids, yet didn’t ever discourage them from competing at the highest levels and freeskiing at the highest levels as well.”

Stiegler’s freeskiing days began early, and so did her ambition. Emerson recalled a time he joined an 8-year-old Resi on a run down the famed Corbet’s Couloir at her request.

“I didn’t convince her,” Emerson said. “She and her friends convinced me that it was time to go look into doing Corbet’s.”

Her first trip down the couloir went off without a hitch, and she skied away as if she had done it dozens of times.

Emerson coached and taught Stiegler from the age of 5 until she was 16. She was part of Emerson’s newly formed Teton Village Racers in 1991. He said the passion for the sport that fuels Stiegler to this day is exactly what she displayed as a kid.

“All she wanted to do was ski,” he said. “No matter what we were doing, whether it was a gate-training day or freeskiing the big mountain, she wasn’t going to miss any moment of it.”

Around the time Stiegler made her first descent of Corbet’s, Emerson tried to harness her passion by tagging Stiegler with what would soon be her longtime nickname.

“Before she’d get in the gate I’d let her know she was a tiger,” he said. “Tiger is my favorite animal. She liked the bison as well. It was just a way to get her revved up in the starting gate to get out of there quick and light like a tiger. Both fast and strong. She kind of adopted that, and off it went.”

The tiger soon morphed into “La Tigre,” and Stiegler ran with it. So much so that early in her career she often would race with tiger ears attached to her helmet, despite backlash from the International Olympic Committee.

Family, friends and coaches say it’s her spirited personality that has kept her at the top of the sport for so long. She has overcome injuries that derailed her career. She fought back from independent status on the U.S. Ski Team in 2015 after not meeting fully funded “A” Team criteria.

Few skiers enjoy their days on the World Cup tour more than Stiegler. It’s evident nearly every time she crosses the finish line as she plays to the crowd, raising her arms high and waving to the fans with a smile that stretches from ear to tiger ear.

Former coaches like Emerson and ex-Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club coach Sean Clark say the love she has for the sport is why she appears to stay ageless.

“I think that’s probably what’s kept her going,” said Clark, who coached Stiegler as a U12. “That free-spirited, fun-natured personality. Ski racing is a pretty tricky sport like that, because it’s an individualized sport. If you’re not easygoing and having a good time you can wear out pretty quick.”

Pepi echoed Clark’s sentiment.

“She has overcome difficult moments,” he said. “She has a persevering, competitive spirit, which is necessary and needed in order to win.”

Whether she finishes first in Pyeongchang or doesn’t finish at all, look for the American to project that same youthful joy. Even if she has grown out of pinning ears to her race helmet.