The day Billy Kidd gave America a reason to cheer | SteamboatToday.com

The day Billy Kidd gave America a reason to cheer

Olympic medalists, and pals, Billy Kidd left, and Jimmie Heuga pose with their prized hardware a few years ago. They were the first American men to win Alpine ski medals on this day (Feb. 8 1964).Heuga passed away in 2010.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As Billy Kidd crossed the finish line of the slalom race — the final Alpine event of the 1964 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria — he glanced up at the timer like it was just another race.

But it wasn't. These were the Olympics, and this was his moment to shine.

"I remember crossing the finish line and looking up and seeing my time," Kidd said." My first reaction was, 'Oh no, I missed the gold. Oh but wait a minute, the silver isn't too bad.’"

His surprising race to the silver, the first Alpine skiing medal ever won by an American man, was made even more special because his teammate and good friend Jimmie Heuga pocketed the bronze in the same race.

The event took place 54 years ago today, on Feb. 8, 1964. It was the highlight of the Games for the American Alpine team that had come in with high expectations and riding on the shoulders of veterans like Buddy Werner and Chuck Ferris.

But it was the newcomers, Kidd and Heuga, who made all the noise.

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"It showed everybody that this wasn't just a lucky day for somebody on the U.S. team." Kidd said. "Our favorites Chuck Ferris and Buddy Werner didn’t win medals, but here are these young kids that did win medals. It really was a break through for the U.S. Team."

Before the race, Kidd was an unknown, a 20-year-old who had been named to the team in his senior year of high school. He was thrilled just to be on the same slope with his hero, Buddy Werner.

Growing up in Stowe, Vermont, Kidd had a poster of Werner on his wall and he often wondered how the Steamboat Springs native could be so fast on snow. Kidd said he looked up to Werner and still does to this very day. At the time, Werner was the only American to win the famed Hahnenkamm downhill race in Kitzbühel, Austria.

"Going into the '64 Olympics we all thought that he could win all three golds — slalom , downhill and giant slalom," Kidd said. "Unfortunately, he didn't … Then we thought ‘all right,’ if Buddy doesn't win the slalom then Chuck Ferris could because he won the Hahnenkamm slalom and only a couple of Americans have ever won the  Hahnenkamm slalom. But neither Buddy or Chuck won medals that day, and there were two unknown 20-year-olds from the United States.”

Of course, as a ski racer, Kidd admits that he always thought he could win a medal.

"I thought so, and Jimmy thought so, and our parents thought so," Kidd said. "Bob Beattie (their coach at the time) might have thought so, but basically he was counting on Chuck and Buddy to win the medals —  not Jimmy and I.”

Kidd said the days and weeks after he won his silver medal were a whirlwind. Suddenly, the attention was on him, and while an Olympic medal at that time didn't translate into million-dollar contracts, he said it did open a few doors that he gladly walked through.

"In those days, we didn't make money from skiing, and we didn't do it for the glory or the attention," Kidd said. "Back in the 1960s, if you won gold for skiing in America, that medal and a quarter would get you a cup of coffee."

Kidd continued to ski race and had a solid career that ran from 1962 to 1970. Six years after winning his silver at the Olympics, Kidd raced to a gold in the combined and a bronze in the slalom at the 1970 World Championships in Val Gardena, Italy.

Kidd went on to have a solid professional skiing career that lasted until 1972. He eventually became the director of skiing at the Steamboat Ski Resort.

On most days, visitors can meet Billy at the top of the gondola for his regular 1 p.m. run where he offers some great tips and shares stories from his days competing as a member of the U.S. Ski Team.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.