PARK CITY, Utah -- It's weird to visit a buoyant Olympic Summit while everybody bemoans a wretched government shutdown. At a buoyant Olympic Summit, as opposed to a wretched government shutdown, you mingle among bold, tough, young adults who make you think, "This particular country must have something on the ball."
You find snowboarder Hannah Teter, who, having grown up among four older brothers in Vermont, can define sports as well as anyone ever did: "It definitely was easy to fall down and get back up, which is what sports is all about -- to feel the heat, the crap, and get back up."
You find a 22-year-old hockey marvel named Amanda Kessel, University of Minnesota supernova, who joined a boys' program as a young teen and said of that: "I loved it. The boys were really protective of me, so I was like the little girl that would be throwing uppercuts, and they would come in ..."
You find sibling ice dancers -- ice dancers! -- in Alex and Maia Shibutani, ages 22 and 19, and you figure you might have a listen for 10 minutes, because you never listened to any ice dancers for 10 minutes or even nine. You might stay 60 -- minutes -- because of the Shubutanis' brightness, humor, candor (they do fight sometimes), mutual respect (they tear up talking about each other), zest, fearlessness, booming interest in life, charisma. Any nation that can produce these people can't be all bad ...
Then, in this wonderland of living life rather than letting life live you, you might wander in to see runaway star Lindsey Vonn on a big screen, on video conference from Ohio, fixing to cheer on some golfer she knows in the Presidents Cup. Her camera might balk, so that at times you see pretty much only her chin, but it's a good chin. Besides, here she's saying that eight months after she pretty horridly fell off a mountain in Austria, dismantling her right knee, she might return in three weeks, again in Austria. Near the other side of rehabilitation that you wouldn't wish on a congressman, she says, "It's because I'm feeling so strong and ready that I'm bringing that possibility back into the mix."
And if that didn't make the lights flash on the road to Sochi 2014, there came this thought: Might the country really follow up one bright, bold, confident, self-respecting, determined, outrageously talented, German-speaking, international ski champion with another?
It might. Just down the hallway and into another room, you might find Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, 10 years younger than Vonn, amid reporters, a scene set to recur through coming years. (Lucky reporters.)
Last March, Shiffrin became the youngest world slalom champion since 1974. She also just finished a history course on a beach in Mexico, while her father attended an anesthesiologists' convention. She also just finished taking German, six hours a day before scurrying out to train. She also says of how she might major were she in college: "I love science, and I don't know what, specifically. I'd have to kind of dabble in chemistry, biology, but I'm thinking that I also love the oceans, and maybe I'd end up wanting to go into marine biology. And then, I also really like cutting hair, so maybe I'd just go to a hair school -- I don't even know what they're called! -- and I also like interior design, so I'm a little scattered."
Yeah, really, how hopelessly scattered. An hour around her, and you'd give her a high world ranking in comfort-in-one's-own-skin. She entertains questions about being a prospective favorite -- at 18 -- without arrogance or denial. You might start to wish you'd raised her so that you could become unbearable talking about her around neighbors.
She also provides the best reflection on Vonn. In long-block paragraphs, she admires Vonn's professionalism, diligence, competitiveness, femininity. She says Vonn offers to share all advice, but that Shiffrin balks, because she thinks Vonn's rare free time should belong to Vonn. She said Vonn sent her emails after several of her races, congratulating her, assuring her that Vonn was watching during Vonn's recovery, urging her on.
"And that was, just, that was all I needed to hear," Shiffrin said, who grew up in Vail and New England, in powder and ice.
Here's Shiffrin talking about being in the zone: "It feels everything's kind of slow-motion, and it's like 'Secretariat' -- when everything slows down, and all you can hear is the horses breathing, and it's like, seconds before the gates open ... You're just building energy and building it and building it and not thinking about it, and things can happen. Like sometimes I'll see coaches on the side of the course, and I'll notice them, and I'll register that they're coaches, but then it's gone, and that moment's passed, and everything's happening so pleasantly. When people say, 'I want to be in the moment and live life to its fullest,' that's what I interpret that as, ski-racing and being in the zone."
Here she talks about the aftermath: "When the zone comes to the end, I'm thoughtless for a good half an hour, which is inconvenient, because there's always a media line, and they're always asking me exactly what I'm thinking. At the World Cup, they were like, 'What can you say for yourself? What's going through your head right now?' I was like, 'Oh my gosh! This is the ... this is ... I wish I could tell you! I really do! I'm not trying to be really boring, but I have no idea what's going on in my head right now! I swear I could not have a brain and I wouldn't know the difference.'"
And here she talks about a momentous turn at age 10 with her skier/anesthesiologist/planner father, Jeff: "I call him the 'schedulizer,' which isn't a word, but it could be a word. If enough people start saying it, maybe they'll put it in the dictionary ... I was like, 'Dad, when's the first time I could probably race in a World Cup,' and he was like, he started going through the whole plan. I have be 15, to get my FIS [International Ski Federation] license. And then I have to do well in FIS races, and race Nor-Ams, and then I need to go to Europa Cup, and if I do well there then I might get a World Cup start, and he was like, 'so, I mean, 15, but that would be a really lofty goal ...'"
Add: "And I did. I raced the day before I turned 16."