By Bruce Sayler
Elation, relief and the requisite excitement flowed from the voice of Brad Wilson Friday afternoon over the telephone a few hours after it was confirmed he had been nominated for his third Winter Olympics as a freestyle skier, men’s team moguls specialist.
A third time in the Olympics is men’s moguls set a Team USA record and the 2011 Butte Central graduate was trying to wrap his head around that accomplishment, too. He was the budding prospect at the 2010 Winter Games as a spectator watching his older brother Bryon capture the Bronze Medal on a ski hill outside of Vancouver.
Brad Wilson led Team USA entrants into the 2014 and 1018 Winter Olympics men’s moguls as a team star and falls ended his medal attempts with his enticing, appealing and fear-producing go-for-broke style down the bump-filled ski runs of Sochi, Russia, and PyeongChang, South Korea. He remembered a comet streaking the sky as he somersaulted off a ramp in an air trick at Sochi at the time.
This coming week, he and his United States teammates head for Beijing for what will be Wilson’s last Olympics. He announced his retirement last week, effective at the end of the current World Cup season.
“It’s pretty cool, but making me feel old,” the 29-year-old send about the third Olympics and pending retirement. “I’m just bubbled up, right now, and looking forward to heading over there.”
The team is in quarantine in Park City, Utah, because one positive test for Covid-19 will keep any competitor home. The Chinese will deny entry, Wilson said. Scheduling has the team leaving for Los Angeles on Tuesday, then on to China Wednesday or Thursday after plans are finalized, and gear and uniforms are distributed.
Men’s moguls preliminaries are slated for February 3 and finals for February 5 and the team will return to the United States immediately thereafter.
“We just had our pre-Olympic prep camp for Olympians the last couple of days,” Wilson said. “We head over there, compete and then they send us out of there, quick. There’ll be no hanging out with everybody.”
Wilson said he feels good about what approaches and his health his good, too.
“I’m stoked,” he said. “This is my last season and I think I’m looking forward to it.”
Because of China’s policy regarding the pandemic, no spectators will be allowed at the competitions, not even family. However, Bryon Wilson, will be in his younger brother’s corner as a moguls coach for the U.S. Olympic team.
Brad Wilson is an accomplished painter in his spare time, of which there hasn’t been a lot of in recent years. He said the art will get more of his attention in the nearing future.
Relationships are important at the present, he relayed. The other three men named to the moguls team are Dylan Walczyk, Cole McDonald and Nick Page. All are good friends, he said. Wilson’s girlfriend, Jaelin Kauf, of Alta, Wyoming, is a leader of the women’s team.
This Olympics will be the second for both Walczyk and Kauf.
“Dyland and I have been on the U.S. team a long time,” Wilson said. “We’re good friends and I’m excited for him qualifying. Cole and Nick (both from Park City, Utah) are from the Wasatch team that I skied on (in the junior division) and were little kids I helped coach, teach them backflips. Nick is like a little brother to me. Both are awesome skiers.”
Wilson said Kauf and the rest of the women’s team selected – Olivia Giaccio, Kai Owens and Hannah Soar – is “super strong.” They’ve regularly been in the top 10 of World Cup meets.
“To be able to qualify for the Olympics is really, really hard,” Wilson said, “especially this year for the women.”
Wilson said the men’s field has grown in strength since his early days of competing on the hill, having cut is moguls teeth at Discovery Basin and Bridger Bowl, mostly, but also on a homemade rampe just off Homestake Pass on the East Ridge running alongside Butte.
“The whole field of the men for the Olympics, the World Cup is a lot stronger than my first Olympics,” he said. “The guys have become a lot better and making no mistakes.”
Technique and courage will be on display soon in a documentary scheduled to for showings this week. Title “Montana Mavericks,” the film is to be shown January 26-27 at theaters in Bozeman and Missoula, then on PBS on January 30 with internet free availability that night. The Wilson brothers are among the featured in the salute to freestyle skiing.
“We’re guys competing eight years ago still competing with these young skiers and there are some good skiers,” he said about the current levels.
The veering and jumping down the Secret Garden mountainside in China this Olympics will be Wilson and Co.’s first time down the course. He said the group has skied at another moguls hill near Beijing, but it has not seen this course before.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the course and trying it out,” Wilson said. ”I’ve been able (recently) to be trying some stuff out and have had a better last couple weeks. I didn’t start out the (World Cup) season too well. I always have trouble at Ruka (Finland, first meet of the season.)
“It’s nice to make the Olympics. I never felt any pressure this year. I’ve just been enjoying it.”
Having his big brother in his corner is a plus, too, Wilson noted.
“It’s pretty crazy having Bryon for a coach, and it’s pretty special,” he said. “Having Bryon over there is going to be really cool. He knows exactly what I’ve gone through every week.
“He’s enjoying the retirement as a competitor. I think he’s glad he’s done skiing and is doing really well with his coaching. He’s turned out to be one of the best coaches we’ve ever had. I think when I retire, I’ll dabble in the coaching thing, too, for a while.”
However, it is not a promise Brad Wilson will coach long. He has other strong interests and said he really has no idea what the future might hold after skiing. He said the body is just telling him it’s done falling down mountains.
“Skiing moguls hurts,” he said. “So, it’s good we have a PT (physical therapist) traveling with us. It’s getting harder and harder making it down these courses.”
More trips to Butte where the boys still have plenty of friends and relatives are definitely in the plans. Their parents, Bryon and Jeannette (Harrington) Wilson, are also Butte natives.
“It’s pretty cool, Butte,” Brad Wilson said. “It’s fun to think back to those days, doing fun things like kick the can – good old days. So, I want to go back and visit family. And once I’m done skiing, I think I’ll be able to get back more.
“So much over these years, we’ve been busy in the winter competing and in the summer training. There’s a lot of training to get to the Olympics to get your 20 seconds of glory. It’s a lot.”
The first time Bryon Wilson was introduced at a World Cup meet, the announcer told the crowd the skier was from Park City, Utah. Wilson completed his run, then, with his skis still attached, climbed back up the hill to the announcer’s shed to make the correction. Both boys have remembered Butte all of their competing hours.
“I want to thank the community of Butte and of Montana for the help and support that got me here,” Brad Wilson said. “I could not have done any of this without them.”
He’s paying it forward.
“It’s really cool seeing guys making the Olympics I helped teach backflips become msome of my biggest competitors,” he said. “And, they’re doing trips I would never dream of doing.
“A lot has happened.”