Nelson, Cindy (1955—)
Nelson, Cindy (1955—)
American Alpine skier. Born Cindy Nelson in Lutsen, Minnesota, on August 19, 1955; third of five children whose parents owned a small ski resort and taught skiing.
Won four World Cup titles; won U.S. downhill titles (1973 and 1978), U.S. slalom titles (1975 and 1976), and the U.S. combined title (1978); won a bronze Olympic medal at Innsbruck (1976).
Cindy Nelson's parents owned a small ski resort on Lake Superior in Lutsen, Minnesota, so she was skiing by age two. By 11, Nelson was winning a number of local and regional races under the tutelage of coach Heli Schaller. Though Nelson often made as many as 60 practice runs a day, one ski writer pondered how she became a downhiller. Unlike the Alpine courses of Europe, the training hills around her home, he wrote, were "not a whole lot steeper than a parking lot."
At 15, Nelson qualified for the U.S. World Cup team, and by 16 she was competing against some of Europe's best skiers. She placed 12th and 13th in her first two World Cup downhills. Not long after Nelson qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1972, however, she dislocated her hip after flying 30 feet in the air. As she watched the 1972 Olympics on television, she seriously considered retiring, but was back on the slopes in 1973. That year she won the national downhill title, and in 1975 and 1976 she took the slalom title. At the Innsbruck Olympic Games in 1976, Nelson, an underdog because of inconsistency in pre-Olympic races, won the bronze, coming in. 66 of a second behind gold-medal winner Rosi Mittermaier of West Germany.
Nelson continued to train, competing in an average of 40 races each year. In 1978, she won the national downhill title again and the combined championship as well. She also competed in the slalom, the giant slalom, and the downhill in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, though her best place was a seventh in the downhill. Two years later, she led the U.S. women's ski team to
its first Nations Cup, a prize given to the team with the most World Cup points at season's end. While training for the 1984 Olympics, Nelson injured her right knee. Although she withdrew from the downhill, she skied with a brace in the slalom and finished 19th.
In addition to her athletic abilities, Nelson was known for her team spirit. The 1970s were not an easy time for American skiers, as organizational and morale problems plagued the squad. Nelson's steady determination emboldened her teammates; as she noted, "The important thing is that you have to keep going."
Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1992.
Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia