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To say that Tommy Moe became an overnight sensation is a simple statement of fact.
On a Sunday morning in February 1994, Alaskans awoke to astonishing news: While they were sleeping, Moe roared down a mountain in Lillehammer, Norway, to claim Olympic gold in downhill skiing. The news didn’t just shake up Alaska. It shook up the ski world.
Moe, 23 at the time, had a resume that was good by American standards but modest by international ones. Few were expecting an Olympic medal, not the experts in Norway, and not the fans in Alaska. His victory produced golden memories in both places.
In Norway, fans cheered the underdog American, figuring that if the race couldn’t go to a Norwegian, at least it went to a racer of Norwegian descent. When a few days passed and Moe claimed a silver medal in the super-G on the day he turned 24, a crowd of 30,000 showed its love by singing “Happy Birthday.”
In Alaska, people were giddy that one of their own had become the biggest story in sports. Banners were erected, giant headlines were written and at least one espresso stand began serving “Tommy Moe-chas.”
Moe was celebrated by Sports Ilustrated (which put him on the cover, with the headline “The Golden Boy”) and David Letterman (whose mother, in Norway to cover the Olympics for Letterman, bestowed him with a canned ham). He even got a call from Hillary (Clinton, the first lady at the time), even though at first he thought it was Hilary (Lindh, the Alaska downhill skier who won a silver medal at the previous Winter Olympics).
A brief moment in time – 1 minute and 45.75 seconds – made Moe a hero for life and gave Alaskans a burst of pride that lasted long after that Sunday morning when they awoke to learn a guy from the top of the world was tops of the whole world.
– Beth Bragg
photo courtesy of United States Ski Association
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