Living among the Giants
Sarka Zahrobska was born and raised in the Krkonose Mountains in the northern Czech Republic. Translated as the "Giant Mountains," the highest peaks in the mountain range are only slightly more than 5000 feet above sea level, but they have provided temporary refuge for such literary giants as Franz Kafka ("The Castle") and Johann Wolfgang Goethe ("Faust"). The main resort in the area, Spindleruv Mlyn, has hosted two World Cup events, in 2005 and 2008. Zahrobska splits time between the mountains and her summertime residence in Prague.
Zahrobska's birthday has regularly coincided with major skiing competitions, and 2010 will be no different. On the eve of the Opening Ceremony of the Vancouver Games, she will turn 25. In recent years, she has found success in slalom on, or around, her personal anniversary. In 2005, she won her first world championship medal, a bronze, on her 19th birthday. On Feb. 16, 2007, she became world champion in the event, and on Feb. 14, 2009, she won world silver. The women's Olympic slalom will take place on February 26, but she could celebrate similar success in one of her other favored events, the super-combined or the giant slalom.
Father knows best
Sparked by her father's early influence, Zahrobska followed her older brother Petr (Zahrobsky) onto the ski slopes at age two and began racing at age six. Her father still serves as the siblings' coach, manager and ski technician. At the 2009 Worlds, he even set the second run of the slalom course, and she won silver, albeit with only the eighth best Run 2 time. During the 2009-10 World Cup season, her father is traveling with Petr, but they will be re-united at the Olympics.
The 2007 world slalom champion proved that she was not a one-win wonder when she claimed her first World Cup event on a windy day in Aspen, Colo. in November 2008. That event was marred not as much by the 60 mph wind gusts as by a near-accident, when a loose dog cut right in front of Norwegian skier Anne Marie Mueller just as she was crossing the finish line and almost caused a collision. Zahrobska defended her title in November 2009.
Zahrobska's favorite Olympic moment happened not on snow, but on ice. She remembers, as a 13-year-old, the fervor in her country when the Czech men's ice hockey team, led by goaltender Dominik Hasek, won the gold medal. "It was a huge thing for the country, with big celebrations in the streets of Prague and thousands of people in the old town square." When asked if the celebration would be as big if she were to win gold in Vancouver, she repiled that she was not sure, but added, "The Olympics are the Olympics. Everyone loves them."
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.