2010 Winter Olympics: Chris Klug goes out with a flourish
February 27, 2010, 6:48PM
WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. –Few people had Chris Klug in the elite eight of their men's snowboarding parallel giant slalom bracket.
Yet as he has done countless times before, Klug overcame the odds Saturday at Cypress Mountain to finish seventh in the Vancouver Winter Games. Klug's performance, cheered by about 100 fans from Colorado and Sisters, Ore., where he lives half the year, caps an Olympic career that spanned 12 years and three Games.
Not bad for a 37-year-old organ-transplant recipient who needed a sponsorship from Hooters this season to help pay his training bills.
"That's a little bit tough, just to come up short," Klug said of losing in the quarterfinals. "But it was a lot of fun. I was really proud to be out here. Definitely tried to fight as hard as I could."
Jasey Jay Anderson of Canada won the gold, beating Austria's Benjamin Karl in the head-to-head-format final. Mathieu Bozzetto of France won the bronze medal when his opponent in the third-place race, Russia's Stanislav Detkov, was disqualified on his second run. The other U.S. rider, Tyler Jewell of Steamboat Springs, Colo., finished 13th.
Dozens of red foam "No. 1" fingers with Klug's name on them bobbed in the stands. Someone held up a sign that read "Donor Dudes." On a rainy/snowy day with fog like clam chowder, Klug appeared to have the largest, most resilient cheering section.
"I'm gonna go up there and jump in the crowd and say hi to them all in a minute," said Klug, who has been on the racing circuit for 20 years. "If this is my last competitive season, I'm really stoked to be here."
Klug was 16th after two qualifying runs, barely making the 16-man competition field. Just as in the NCAA basketball tournament, Klug was matched with the No. 1 seed, top qualifier Andreas Prommegger of Austria.
In parallel giant slalom, two snowboarders race one another twice on side-by-side courses, with the time differential carrying over to the second run. So if a racer finishes .25 seconds ahead in the first run, his opponent must start .25 seconds behind him in the second run. Klug finished .88 ahead of Prommegger in the first run, then beat him on the second run.
"I mean, to come in 16th in the qualifier and bounce the top guy, he's got momentum on his side," Jewell said.
In the round of eight Klug faced France's Bozzetto, who was the ninth qualifier and fell behind .60 on the first run. On the second run, Klug was leaning hard into the gates when he missed one near the bottom, eliminating him from contention. He described the low-visibility conditions as "riding by Braille."
Klug, born in Denver and raised in Aspen, Colo., was diagnosed in his early 20s with the same liver disease (primary sclerosing cholangitis) that killed legendary NFL running back Walter Payton. Klug nonetheless made the 1998 Olympic team and finished 6th in Nagano, Japan. But he still was ill.
After three years on a transplant list, Klug in 2000 received the liver of a 13-year-old boy who had died in an accidental shooting. Klug returned to training and, about 19 months after the transplant, won the bronze at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. To add flourish to the achievement, he took his last run with duct tape to hold together his broken binding.
He became a spokesman for organ donation, raising awareness, answering phone calls and e-mails from people needing transplants.
Klug didn't make the 2006 Olympic team. In the run-up to the 2010 Games he failed to make the U.S. "A" team – even after winning the U.S. championship – and found outside funding scarce for PGS, which doesn't attract sponsors like the flashier snowboard halfpipe.
So he formed the training group America's Snowboard Team, securing sponsors including Hooters and hiring a coach, and made the Olympic team.
Klug, who lifted his eyes frequently Saturday and smiled at the crowd, in July will celebrate his 10th year with his donated liver. He still takes anti-rejection drugs twice a day and probably will for the rest of his life. But he is more thriver than survivor.
"I remember right after my transplant I took a handful of pills (daily), and I was like, 'Boy, this is going to be hard to get used to,'" Klug said. "Now it's just one pill in the morning and night. I just kind of got accustomed to it.
"No matter where I am, on my surfboard or my snowboard or kiteboard, I just take one with me and it doesn't really slow me down."