• by Karen Cummings

Heidi eyes the Olympics

When the Nor-Ams (North American Series) came to Attitash on December 12th, many Olympic hopefuls were among the girls who competed in the prestigious event. Much like the tennis scene, most of the young women who skied in the Nor-Ams were teenagers--young, strong and hungry to better their international ranking. Most of these girls were looking for racing experience and maybe a chance to represent their country at the winter Olympic Games at Sarajevo.

Also in the impressive group of skiers who competed at Attitash was an experienced skier--one that already had a trip to the Olympics under her belt--almost the "old lady" of the bunch at 22, Heidi Preuss. Four years ago, Heidi, a native of the Laconia area, represented the United States at the Lake Placid Olympics and had the best showing for the women's ski team, a fourth place in the downhill.


"Heidi was something of a child prodigy," said Harold Harb, her former coach and current director of the Mt. Washington Valley Ski Education Foundation. "At age 13, she was already on the U.S. Ski Team, and when she was 14, she won everything in sight." She continued her winning form on competitive forays into Europe and Japan, capping her precocious performance with her showing in the Olympics at age 18.


Where has this prodigious skier been keeping herself lately? "I've spent every spring for the last four years in the hospital," Heidi said, as though everyone did. "The first two springs I had knee operations, and the last two, I had orthoscopes, where they go into the knee with tubes and generally clean it out." In between the reconstituting of her knees, Heidi has been attending the University of Utah where she is currently a junior majoring in business.


Asserting that her "knees now work," Heidi is on the comeback trail. She's been training hard. This summer she traveled to the southern hemisphere to ski in New Zealand. The six races of the Nor-Am series that were held in five days (both races scheduled at Attitash were held on one day due to inclement weather) have been her "season" so far and she finished well in all of them including two second place finishes at Attitash. On December 31st, Heidi headed to Europe to compete in World Cup events leading up to the Olympics in February.


All this would indicate that she has set her sights to be on the United States team that goes to Sarajevo, but this is not the case. "I'd like to go," Heidi said, "but though I have set goals for my performance, I have never set specific goals like that. It's up to the ski team to decide who will be racing."


There are eight women allowed on the U.S. Ski Team, with four racing in each event, the slalom, giant slalom, and downhill. The downhill is Heidi's preferred event, the one in which she fared well in the last Olympics. "I was in Sarajevo last year and skied the downhill course," she said. "The top part was pretty hairy--there was one turn that was bad--but after that, it's kind of nice."


Heidi feels there are three women who have secured their spots on the Olympic team--Tamara McKinney, Christin Cooper, and Debbie Armstrong, with a fourth place uncertain because of Cindy Nelson's knee injury earlier this season. That leaves four to five slots up for grabs and the 10 or more races in the World Cup series in Europe, starting in January will determine the skiers who will be representing the United States. "It's easy for them to choose," Heidi ex-plained. "They just pick the best ranked American in each event."


The competition is tough. After beating almost everyone in sight when she was a mere 13 or 14, Heidi now loses to some of the younger up-and-comers. "The women's team is really strong," she said. "There are just so many athletic people out there, and for the men, there are many sports open to them so they lose a lot to other sports, unless they happened to grow up next to a ski area. For women, there are not as many sports to choose from and so, the better women athletes get concentrated in the ones that are open to them."


Heidi's future is still up in the air. She has no desire to turn professional and has made no long-range plans for her skiing career. "I have plans for when my skiing days are over but I don't know when that will be. When I get there I'll know it's time for me to quit," she said with a smile. "Right now I'm just looking forward to teaching wind-surfing in the Bahamas next summer."


Editor's Note: Where is she now? It appears Heidi is still living in Laconia and running her own business--https://www.linkedin.com/in/heidi-preuss-68ab62a.

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