By Mike “A.K.” Akay
Marco Sullivan is one of the greatest skiers and one of the greatest guys in the world. He just ended an illustrious World Cup ski career during which he garnered numerous medals and gained more respect as a noble and strong competitor. This season, in his last start, he just edged out Bode Miller to become the American with the most World Cup downhill starts, at 105. That is quite an achievement in such a risky sport. I was at the 2002 Olympics to watch Marco and Daron Rahlves both race in the downhill. That was Marco’s first Olympiad, and he stunned the crowd with an eighth-place finish. He ended his career strongly as well, placing 18th and earning a substantial amount of World Cup points this season and making his Atomic ski sponsor very proud. The former Mighty Mite racer was in four Olympics and six World Championships in his 15-year career with the U.S. Ski Team, and he had a decisive World Cup downhill victory in Chamonix in 2008. Over the years, I have found Marco one of the easiest people to talk to and he is generous with his time. I was fortunate to catch up with Marco for an interview after he announced the big news of his retirement.
AK: What was the most memorable moment in your career?
Marco:The best moments in my career were all the times I was able to be racing on a downhill course. The nervousness at the start and then the quiet zone you enter when you are on course. I always loved that feeling of freedom, regardless of the result.
AK: What was the favorite race of your career?
Marco: I think my favorite race was the 2002 Olympic Downhill in Salt Lake City. It was close to home so many of my friends and family were able to attend. I had a great result and I remember standing in the start gate and not having a care in the world. I was so happy to be racing in the Olympics, and it all worked out to be an amazing week of my life.
AK: After spending so many winters in Europe, what will you miss most?
Marco:The ski culture in Europe is awesome. Never-ending ski resorts, great coffee, people yelling at you and you have no idea what they are saying. I will also miss being a part of the World Cup tour because it is the biggest show in town. So much energy surrounds the classic downhill races in Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France. It’s a ton of fun.
AK: What is the highest m.p.h. speed you achieved in downhill racing?
Marco: 100 m.p.h. one year in Wengen, Switzerland.
AK: Is there a moment you wish you could take back?
Marco: Beaver Creek 2003. I missed a gate near the end of my first training run. I guess I was frustrated or something because instead of slowing to a stop I straight-lined down to the finish jump and popped it. That cost me two seasons of not racing after dislocating my right knee. That was a split second decision that I would surely take back if I could.
When Marco crossed the finish line at the end of this World Cup season at Lillehammer, Norway for his 105th World Cup downhill start and his last, he reflected on his time on the circuit, saying “It didn’t really hit me until I was in the finish, I was taking in everything the whole day. It was especially nice to hear from all my competitors about how much they loved having me around. I guess they meant it,” he laughed. “I always tried to be the guy who helped lift everyone’s spirit.” That statement truly reflects the man that Marco Sullivan is and many have enjoyed his strong presence, on and off the ski hill. Good luck to Marco with his next endeavors, be it another Arctic Man victory, X Games, Banzai, Alaskan ski films or whatever he chooses.