This article was written by Kerry Gillespie and originally published on the Toronto Star website.
There are often hugs and tears between athletes and loved ones when they finally get that spectacular result they’ve spent years striving toward.
But the embrace between Dustin Cook, Canada’s first-ever world championship super-G medallist, and his father was much more than about a simple victory.
“That was for Papa and Scott,” Paul Cook told his son, moments after Dustin surprised the skiing world by beating a field full of world and Olympic champions to win the silver medal at the event in Beaver Creek, Colo.
Cook’s grandfather Bill, known as Papa, passed away two weeks ago from renal failure and his uncle Scott passed away last week from lymphoma.
“Dustin couldn’t go to their funerals, so this is pretty nice for them,” his father said in an interview with the Star. “My mom asked (Dustin) to do it for his Papa . . . so this is in their memory.”
The word fan doesn’t go quite far enough, apparently, to cover the passion Bill Cook had for grandson Dustin and his skiing career.
“He was in a home and he would tell everybody about Dustin . . . none of them knew what he was talking about but he wouldn’t stop,” Paul Cook said, laughing at the memory.
“Do you know who my grandson is?” he’d say.
The crowd at the finish line Thursday afternoon could have used one of Papa’s little lessons in that as well.
As Paul Cook was screaming, admittedly, “like a raving lunatic,” the people around him were giving him increasingly weird looks.
“ ‘He’s not American, why are you yelling so loud?’ It’s pretty pro-American down here,” Paul Cook recalled them saying. “I finally said ‘that’s my son!’ ”
This is Dustin’s first full year on the World Cup circuit — his previous best finish had been 12th — so he’s not exactly a household name and certainly wasn’t promoted ahead of time at the event as a potential medallist.
There was no police escort like the one that Tiger Woods used to go find Lindsey Vonn after her historic super-G victory in Europe last month; Paul Cook had to sneak his way past security to reach his son for their emotional embrace.
Dustin said when he realized he’d won a medal at the biggest ski race of the year he felt “so many emotions at the same time.”
But surprise, however, wasn’t among them.
“I’m a lot less surprised than most people are,” he said. “I’ve had good results this year, I’ve been building and training really fast. I knew if I just put a run together a podium was not a stretch.”
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Dustin said, “you know what dad? I could medal,” his father recalled.
Paul Cook started to believe it himself at the first interval.
“I saw his first split and I thought ‘oh my god, he might do this’ and then I saw his second split . . . he is doing it.”
At age 25, Cook is considered young for an alpine speed skier at the World Cup level, but he’s been at this for quite some time already.
Coming from a Toronto family of “die-hard skiers,” Cook was on skis before his second birthday.
His first start as a racer some 20 years ago, though, was less than auspicious.
That debut race was at Georgian Peaks in Collingwood, and little 5-year old Dustin went around the finish line, not through it.
“I though this kid is never going to be a ski racer,” Paul Cook said.
Years later, the family moved to the Ottawa-area and he skied with a Quebec club, the provincial team and finally made it to the national team.
He was always good, never the top skier, but he was persistent.
Now, his years of racing experience, coaching changes made last year, putting on weight and increasing his strength this past summer and shifting his mental preparation have all come together, Dustin Cook said.
The men’s super-G was postponed a day because of near blizzard conditions so he had to wait an extra day to find out just how much his preparation would pay off.
“I thought I skied a little bit safe up top and at the bottom I felt like I skied really well and was aggressive. Coming to the line obviously I was super pumped,” he said.
“I didn’t hear any reaction from the crowd at first, so I thought maybe it wasn’t that good and then I looked at the board and thought ‘Holy cow is this for real?’ ”
His time of one minute 15.79 seconds put him just behind gold medallist Austria’s Hannes Reichelt (1:15.68) but ahead of France’s Adrien Theaux in third and pretty much every big name in skiing, including the last two Olympic gold medallists.
That makes Cook’s podium a bit of redemption for the entire Canadian team.
Canada has had world championship success in the past — Erik Guay won the downhill title in 2011 and John Kucera won in 2009 — but this year’s team was without its biggest names.
Guay has yet to race this season and Olympic super-G bronze medallist Jan Hudec is out with a knee injury. Manny-Osborne Paradis arrived in Beaver Creek badly bruised from crashes in Europe and did not finish Thursday’s race. Morgan Pridy finished 22nd and Ben Thomsen was 27th.
“We lost our top guys for now, they’ll be back, but we still have young guys that are doing things,” Cook said.
As soon as Cook catches his breath he will compete again next week in the giant slalom.
In the meantime, he’ll have to re-write his bio.
His biography states his best moment in ski racing is “coming through the finish line in the top-30 at Sölden last season.”
After Thursday, that just can’t compete with the shiny world championship medal that’s now his.