MEMORIES OF SPIDER, MR. BOJANGLES ~ Dick Dorworth

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Posted on the 46th anniversary of Spider’s death

In a long life (83 years) immersed in several aspects of the world of skiing there are, naturally, many fellow skiers I remember (some are forgotten) along that path. Though he died in 1976 at the age of 31 Spider Sabich often comes to mind, and despite the tragic circumstances and flagrant miscarriage of justice surrounding his death, his memory continues to warm, inform and bring a smile of gratitude. His friendship and example of living a successful life continues to inspire both those who knew him and many who were not yet born when he died.

His birth name was Vladimir (as was his father’s) but when he was born Vladimir Sr. noted his son’s long, thin arms and legs and nicknamed him ‘Spider.’ I knew Spider from childhood as we were both young (he was seven years younger than me) ski racers near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada in the 1950s. His extraordinary talent as a racer was evident from the beginning as a member of Nebelhorn (later Echo Summit and then Edelweiss) Ski Team coached by German immigrant Lutz Aynedeter. Spider was a superstar from childhood to the end of his life, and in my opinion he enjoyed and played that role with grace, passion and humility. And he had a great deal of fun along the way. The seven year age difference and the 90 miles between Spider’s home in Kyburz, California and mine in Reno, Nevada meant that the few times I raced against him were at the end of my racing career and we were never ‘on the circuit’ together. However, in the late 60s and into the 70s, when Spider was doing his best ski racing and I was teaching, coaching and writing about skiing, we were together on a similar ‘circuit’ loosely described as the ‘counter-culture.’

 Skiing is a microcosm of the larger society and the tensions between the establishment(s) of American skiing and the skiing counter-culture, including that of ski racing, were as tense, uncomfortable and contentious as everywhere else in America. Spider embodied the best of ski racing’s counter-culture, and because of his four World Cup slalom podiums including one first place and 5th in both Olympic and World Championship slaloms he was a favorite with the press and fans. It didn’t hurt that he was also handsome, graceful both on and off skis, charming and accessible. His lifelong friend Dede Brinkman described him for the Sacramento Bee: “He was so charming and very sexy. It was the same type of charisma you see in movie stars.” His brother Steve who was called ‘Pinky’ because he was bright pink at birth, also a fine ski racer not quite at Spider’s level, said, “Spider was a babe magnet. Just catching his overflow was fine with me.”Pinky also said, “Spider smoke, drank and did whatever all of us did. Let’s not forget, those were the ‘60s and ‘70s.” That gives you an idea.

~~~ CONTINUE ~~~

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