Published January 25, 2010
King of the comeback, Chris Klug is heading back to the Olympics.
Eight years after bringing his inspirational story to Salt Lake City, the 37-year-old snowboarder will return to the games in Vancouver.
Klug won a bronze medal in 2002 in parallel giant slalom, only 19 months after a successful liver transplant, but saw his chance for a return trip in 2006 quashed after losing an appeal over technicalities in the Olympic qualifying system.
He encountered more trouble last year when he didn't make the U.S. Snowboarding "A'' team and was denied funding in the lead-up to the 2010 Games. But he started his own team — America's Snowboard Team — and carved a new route to the Olympics.
"I'm really proud to have overcome some of the challenges," Klug said Monday after finding out he had officially made the team. "We set out to create our own team. It worked. I made it. We put together one of the best training environments ever, and I'm proud of that."
Klug sealed his spot with an eighth-place finish in a World Cup event over the weekend.
He'll be joined on the American PGS team with Tyler Jewell, the rider who beat him out for the only spot in 2006, then had to wait for Klug's appeal to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which was ultimately rejected.
"He shook my hand after the race Sunday and said, 'We're teammates again,'" Klug said. "He told me congratulations. I was really stoked about that."
Michelle Gorgone will be America's only woman rider in PGS, which is widely regarded as the least-popular of the three Olympic snowboarding disciplines — one of the main reasons funding is more difficult to come by.
The United States also added two halfpipe riders to the team Monday — 2006 Olympian Elena Hight and Greg Bretz. They'll join Shaun White, Louie Vito, Scotty Lago, Heather Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter, whose spots were announced Saturday at a U.S. Grand Prix event. White, Clark, Bleiler and Teter have a combined three Olympic gold and one silver medal between them.
Lindsey Jacobellis was officially nominated to the team in snowboardcross. She settled for silver in 2006 after falling while grabbing her snowboard to celebrate what looked like was going to be an easy victory. Nate Holland, Nick Baumgartner, Graham Watanabe and defending Olympic champion Seth Wescott will compete for the men.
Klug, meanwhile, is making his third Olympics — a string that began when snowboarding was introduced in 1998 and reached its crescendo on a sunsplashed day in Park City, Utah, eight years ago.
"Klug's hard work and perseverance have really paid off," U.S. snowboarding coach Peter Foley said.
Using duct tape to bind together a broken boot buckle, Klug defeated Nicolas Huet of France in the 2002 bronze-medal race. He proved that he could not only survive the rare liver disease that nearly killed him — called primary sclerosing cholangitis — but could thrive and win in his sport's greatest venue.
Approximately 16 people die every day awaiting organ transplants. Klug knows how fortunate he is and wants to keep spreading the message about organ donation.
"For selfish reasons, I'm stoked to go back and have a chance to vie for another medal," Klug said. "But it also provides me such an amazing platform, a way to get the word out there about donor awareness. It's a big part of it, and what better stage than the ultimate winter sports arena, the Olympics?"
Forced to search for his own sponsors and support, Klug started America's Snowboard Team along with Zac Kay, Josh Wylie and Erica Mueller. None of his teammates made the Olympics, though Klug said the training environment they helped create, along with coaches Rob Roy and Ian Price, made his success possible.
He said he's riding as fast as he ever has, but because the competition and technology has advanced so far since 2002, he still needed a strong finish at the race over the weekend in Quebec to seal his spot.
"I was in the start gate and I still had a shot," Klug said. "I said to myself, 'This isn't going to be my last race.' It was the same way I felt in 2002, like I had a whole team behind me — all the teammates and the coaches in my corner who sincerely wished me well. That makes such a big difference."