The Bill Koch Story
‘Kochie’ was born June 7, 1955 in Brattleboro, VT, and grew up in Guilford, in southeastern Vermont. He and his younger brother, Fritz, used to race the school bus to grade school. Originally, Bill was a nordic combined skier, terrific in the cross-country portion and pretty good in ski jumping. But, when he was just age 16, he just missed the 1972 Olympic Team - he would have been the alternate. So Bill decided to focus on cross-country skiing. Four years later, at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Insbruck, Austria, he was the Olympic silver medalist in the 30-km race. And his name became a household word, forever associated with the sport of cross-country skiing.
After rocketing to success, though, his skiing was hobbled by an asthmatic condition. But he returned for the 1978 season, competed in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, and then, with Coach Mike Gallagher’s approval, took off the 1981 season so he could try something different. When the first World Cup season was staged in the winter of 1981-82, Bill won four races and captured that first official World Cup title. Bill was back on top.
Prior to 1981 there was only one technique in cross-country skiing, the “diagonal stride, in which both skis stay in prepared tracks. But while competing in a race on a frozen river in Scandinavia at the end of the 1980 season, Bill was surprised to see a Swede, Bjorn Risby, go sailing by him with a different technique. Risby had one ski in the track, but was pushing off to the side, like a speedskater, with his other ski. The technique was faster. Risby won the race and Bill decided he had to learn the technique. He perfected the technique in the Winter of ’81, then jolted the international community in ’82 when he used it to win in Le Brassus, Switzerland.
“I didn’t invent skating,” Bill is always meticulous to say, “but I did help popularize it.” In the United States Koch put the sport of cross-country skiing on the big stage twice. Once when he collected his Olympic medal in 1976 and again in 1982 when he won the Overall World Cup. The sport has never been the same.
Written by Paul Robbins, a freelance writer in Weathersfield, Vt., was nordic correspondent for the U.S. Ski Team in 1982.
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