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Will Koch looks to make his mark in Youth Olympic Games

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Cross-country skier Will Koch is used to lengthy introductions when his name is announced before a race.

It usually begins with “This is Will Koch, son of Bill Koch,” and ends with variants of “Olympic medalist” and “American skiing legend.”

Indeed, his is a last name with a storied pedigree.

The elder Koch is a four-time Olympian and took silver at the Innsbruck 1976 Olympic Winter Games, a medal that remained the United States’ only Olympic cross-country skiing honour for more than four decades.

He won the overall World Cup title in 1982, and is widely credited with inventing the skate-skiing technique that revolutionized the sport.

“A lot of people think, gosh, that’s a lot of pressure, a lot to live up to,” Will said. “I don’t really see it that way myself. I just think it’s really cool to have him as a person in my life. It’s more of an opportunity than a burden.”

Following in his father’s footsteps — or ski tracks — always felt like destiny.

At nine months old, before he could even walk, Will’s parents slapped a pair of skis on him and put him on a beach in Hawaii where his father fancied sand skiing. He entered his first ski race at two — at the Bill Koch Festival. When he turned six, he announced to his father his desire to be an Olympian too.

At 17, he is one step closer, as he competes at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

Even the cross-country skiing venue at these Games has made it all seem like fate. The Vallee de Joux, located in the Swiss Jura mountains, was where Bill Koch won his 1982 World Cup title.

“We talk about skiing a lot,” Will said. “He’s got a new crazy story about a different World Cup race every other day. It’s just amazing having somebody like that with so much knowledge and wisdom about the sport. It’s in my blood.”

The teenager from Peru, Vermont, has had the Winter Youth Olympics in his sights for a long time and says he structured his training over the past year to peak in time for the Games. His parents, elder sister, aunt and uncle have made the trip to Switzerland.

If there is one thing the young Koch hopes to emulate when he competes in the event of his life, it is to be as creative a competitor as his father was.

“Creativity and open-mindedness are my dad’s biggest qualities. He said it a million times: he wasn’t the best, he wasn’t the most athletically gifted… but it was his ability to innovate and be creative that won him all of his medals.”

What he will not do is tie how he fares on the tracks to his illustrious father’s success.

“My goal with skiing has always been to just do as well as I possibly can. If I do my best, that’s success. But if I, for some reason, feel like I didn’t race to my potential, I’d think that was a failure, no matter where I place,” he said.

Six cross-country skiing events will be contested from Saturday through Tuesday. Athletes will be competing for medals in the women’s and men’s cross-country cross free, women’s and men’s sprints free, and the women’s 5km classic and men’s 10km classic.

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