Steamboat Springs Kyrill Kretzschmar had seen the previous two seasons slip through the hands of the University of Denver ski team.
The team was close to winning a national championship but couldn’t quite finish. With increased expectations in the program, the Pioneers ski team made 2000 its own. And during Kretzschmar’s senior year, Denver won its 15th NCAA Championship, its first since 1971.
Kretzschmar and his 2000 teammates will be inducted into University of Denver Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 on Thursday.
Kretzschmar, who moved to Steamboat in 2003 with his wife, Sherri Sweers, said the year 2000 stands out not only for the championship but also for the skiers with whom he experienced it.
“What made it special is cross-country is a cutthroat sport,” he said. “It’s an individual sport, but this team came together.”
Kretzschmar grew up in Germany in a time of political strife. His skills on skis were recognized at a young age. By the time he was 8, he was in a German program designed for promising athletes. Living in East Germany, Kretzschmar’s aunt and uncle illegally immigrated to West Germany. Despite having nothing to do with the move, Kretzschmar’s parents were blacklisted, meaning his father couldn’t get a meaningful job.
Kretzschmar knew his way out was skiing.
“In a large degree, it was the only opportunity to go west,” he said. “You had the Iron Curtain. It was a huge motivation to get into it.”
After a year on the East German junior team and three years on the developmental team, a fellow German had told DU coaches Knut and Trond Nystad about Kretzschmar and his skiing ability. The two coaches came to see him in 1997 and put him through a week of training.
The Nystads indicated they wanted Kretzschmar to ski for DU. Kretzschmar said he didn’t have any money, but the coaches assured him he’d be on scholarship.
“There was big hesitation,” he said. “Nobody could believe the deal was true. My parents didn’t know the two coaches and weren’t sure we could trust them.”
Eventually, Kretzschmar made the team and helped build the foundation for the 2000 national championship. At the time of the NCAA National Championships, Kretzschmar’s eligibility was in question, so the Nystads told him he’d go to the 2000 event as a coach.
The Pioneers dominated that year, with its men’s cross-country team sweeping both individual events.
“It was as close a team as you get,” Sweers said. “It was a conglomerate of people from around the world, but they were a family to a certain degree. Just a whole group of elements came together.”
Kretzschmar, who now works in finance at Steamboat Ski Area, spent several years coaching for Denver and helped lead the Pioneers to two more national titles.
But it’s always that 2000 team that brings back the best memories.
“You will never forget it,” he said. “It was a sweet moment. We’d worked for that goal for several years and came close the two years before. It’s very rare in life where you all work toward a goal and have complete synergy. Everyone played a role in that victory. That’s what made it so special.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com