Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

DU alpine skier ‘psyched’ to be an Olympian

The trajectory of Leif Kristian Haugen’s ski career is decidedly not downhill.

Haugen, an alpine skier on the University of Denver’s ski team, reached the upper echelons of his sport when he was named to the Norwegian Olympic ski team for the Vancouver games this February. Racing for a team with a strong tradition of medaling in skiing at the Olympics, Haugen will compete in the giant slalom event and possibly the slalom.

“For everyone, it’s a dream come true,” Haugen says. “It’s one of the biggest goals for athletes — to compete for your country in the Olympics. I’m honored and psyched.”

He’ll ski his first race in Olympic competition Feb. 21.

Not only is the Olympics a chance to ski with one of the world’s best ski teams on one of the sport’s biggest stages, Haugen also will team with Aksel Lund Svindal, the reigning World Cup champion.

Over the past few months, Haugen, a sophomore international business major from Lommedalen, Norway, has skied a number of World Cup events to qualify and prepare for the Olympics. That means he’s competed in a host of international ski competitions and rubbed elbows with world champion skiers.

“The company he shares is the best in the world,” says Andy LeRoy, head coach of DU’s alpine ski team. “Norway takes extreme pride in ski races, so to make the team from the collegiate ranks is special. His teammates have been eating and sleeping skiing while Leif has been back at school trying to make the dean’s list quarter after quarter.”

“I love the combination of school and athletics,” Haugen says. “I’m probably the only full-time student competing in alpine skiing in the Olympics.”

Haugen’s best finish in World Cup competition this year was 16th place in giant slalom at Alta Badia, Italy. He’s also competed in World Cup events in Soelden, Austria; Beaver Creek, Colo.; Cortina d’ Ampezzo, Italy; and Chominix, France.

Back at the University of Denver, Haugen is a top performer on DU’s ski team. He helped win the University’s 20th NCAA national championship last year, earning All-America honors in the slalom and giant slalom events.

This year, Haugen has competed regularly for the Pioneers, even with his globe-trotting events on the World Cup schedule. He plans to return to DU after the Olympics to continue his studies and NCAA competition.

“I have homework, and I’m actually having study sessions while I’m here,” Haugen says from his training base camp in Whistler, B.C. “I’ve talked to my professors before this and they’re helping me out. That’s the good thing with DU; they appreciate their athletes and the quarter system makes it easy to do something like this.”

Haugen is first DU skier to qualify for the Olympics since Andre Bachleda participated for Poland in the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

Even though he’s new to Olympic competition and he’ll be competing against the world’s best, Haugen’s not going to the Canadian Rockies with a plan to come back empty handed.

“Right now, I’m trying to visualize the hill,” Haugen says. “We have some video footage and I’ve never been there. You have to work mentally with how the hill will work and how you’re going to approach the course. I’ll try to trust that what I’ve done in training will be good enough to put me on the podium.”

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