I can still remember my first real conversation with Willy Raine. It was 1992, on the eve of the Winter Olympics in France, and the young slalom ace and I were sharing a ride to Val D’Isere where the rest of the Canadian Ski Team were already in residence. Probably the last athlete to be named to our Olympic Team that year (in any sport), Raine had managed to qualify for the Games in his first ever World Cup race — a difficult, icy slalom held only a few weeks before in Slovenia. It was a clutch performance, no doubt about it. But the 22 year old certainly wasn’t crowing about his accomplishments.
“It’s funny that way,” he told me. “When you first come over to Europe, you think you’re pretty good at this ski racing thing. And then you end up at some back alley ski hill in Austria and get your ass handed to you on a plate. That’s when you realize just how big the sport is over here. Either it totally defeats you, or it motivates you to go after it…”
True enough. And it was obvious to me that Willy hadn’t quite decided yet which way his career was going to go. Still, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the historical links that tied this quiet young man to the French Alps...
You see, to those of us who grew up around ski racing, the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble were the Nancy Greene Games. Winner of gold and silver medals there despite a horrible crash mere days before the Opening Ceremonies, the legendary Rossland dynamo — called Tiger for her take-no-prisoners approach to racing (and life) — was virtually unbeatable that season. She would retire that spring after earning her second consecutive overall World Cup title. But Olympic medals and crystal globes were not the only things that came in twos for the hard-charging B.C. athlete. For two years later (after marrying CAST program director Al Raine), she would give birth to twins, Willy and his brother Charlie.
And now here was her grown son, following in her footsteps (or ski tracks). So what did Willy think about attending the Games in the same country where his mother had been so honoured 24 years ago? Did he feel this was part of his destiny? Did he feel any extra pressure? “Not at all,” he said. And he was just as frank on the subject of his mother. “You know,” he added, “I never appreciated just how good a ski racer my mother was until I got to this level. She was just my mom. But now I realize just how exceptional an athlete she really was.”