CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) – For athletes around the world, making it to the Olympics and earning a medal for their county is the ultimate goal. One West Virginia native completed that goal this year in Beijing as a coach for Team USA in men’s ski racing.
Canaan Pollock stamped a ticket to Beijing this year as an assistant coach for Team USA‘s World Cup speed team, and one of his athletes secured silver in the men’s super G at this year’s Winter Olympics.
“It’s definitely a dream come true, right?” said Pollock in an interview with 12 News. “It’s the pinnacle of what the sport is. We just watched the Super Bowl, and basically, the Olympics is the equivalent of that for the sport that I work in and competed in and love.”
The beginning of Pollock’s Winter Olympic story starts in Tucker County, West Virginia. “I was lucky enough to grow up in Canaan Valley,” Pollock said. “Just being surrounded by snow sports enthusiasts and people who are and were pioneers of the sport in the state of West Virginia. I was just very lucky I got to grow up kind of in the heart of that.”
Pollock is originally from Red Creek in Tucker County. He attended Hamrick Elementary School near Parsons and moved to Canaan Valley in fourth grade. He then went to Davis-Thomas Elementary School, Tucker County High School, and after graduation, enrolled at Davis and Elkins College in 2001-2002.
Throughout his whole childhood, Pollock was skiing, and he said the Olympics were in his mind as early as third or fourth grade. “I grew up skiing at White Grass… I became part of the Canaan Timberline Ski team. Trained skiing, racing pretty much my entire childhood, adolescent and then college.”
Pollock explained that learning to ski on the east coast in places like West Virginia gives ski athletes some advantages. When skiing in the western part of the country, there is the luxury of fresh, soft snow almost every day. In West Virginia, it doesn’t snow all the time, so skiers learn on artificial snow and ice. “That really hones in our skills, so you’re able to take that technical ability that you learned as a child and you’re able to place those everywhere within the sport.”
That, along with the ski culture and competition in the area, led to a lot of success for skiers that Pollock grew up with. “There were a lot of us boys pushing each other. I would say, I think, from my generation and two or three generations below me, eight or nine of us actually ended up competing at the collegiate level in ski racing, at various universities. We had a really strong culture at that time.”
Pollock became a ski racing athlete at Davis and Elkins College. “Being at D&E, it was a really good place for me at that time. It was small. I couldn’t get into too much trouble,” Pollock said with a chuckle. He credits the D&E Upward Bound program and his advisor at the time for his success. He also said that being on the newly established ski team gave him experience as a leader. “D&E really gave me an opportunity to self-discover and self-explore who I was as a young man, so it was really great.”
His time at D&E also led to the development of his goals as an athlete, from competing to coaching. Pollock took an internship at Snowshoe Mountain to fulfill a requirement for his Recreation Management and Tourism major. He became the head coach at Snowshoe, and it completely changed his trajectory. “As a child, that Olympic dream is that you’re an athlete and you get you to represent your county and you get to walk out…Being a coach kind of wasn’t really on my radar until I would say my second year coaching at Snowshoe. I actually fell in love with teaching. I had already been in love with the sport and things, but I fell more in love with teaching.”
From there, Pollock coached skiers in New Zealand and Lake Tahoe, California until about 2016, and then moved to Switzerland, where he currently lives, to coach a regional team. After five years, some athletes he’d coached previously suggested he apply to be coach on their World Cup speed team for Team USA; he got the job. “I was grateful enough to be given an opportunity, and that opportunity has turned into a pretty amazing year,” he said.
‘Pretty amazing’ could even be considered an understatement. Once at the Olympics, Pollock and his team got the full Olympic medal experience as one of his athletes, “RCS”, Ryan Cochran-Siegle secured silver in the men’s super G. In the event, each ski athlete gets one chance to race down the course as fast as they can, often at upwards of 70 to 90 miles per hour, while staying between the course gates. Each skier gets one timed run down the course.
Pollock said that RCS missed gold by a margin of less than half a second. “.04 of a second and United States would have had gold, but that day, silver tasted just like gold. It was an amazing day.”
Pollock said that committing to coaching in the first place was a huge deal to him. “At that point in time, being from West Virginia was not highly looked upon, just because it’s not—we have great tourism and great skiing, but we’re not highly known as producing Olympic athletes in the sport of ski racing. So, there were definitely adversities to overcome with that.”
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many people told me it wasn’t possible or I’m living with my head in the clouds. And to me, the dream was more important than other people’s opinions.”
Despite his success, Pollock doesn’t see himself as anything special. “There’s so many wonderful people who are doing a lot better things than what I’ve done. You’ve got your teachers out there, parents out there. As far as being a celebrity, no, I would not consider myself a celebrity at all. I would consider myself just somebody who was lucky enough to grow up in the state of West Virginia…I’m just a normal guy. Just a normal guy who is lucky enough to have followed his dreams, and that’s it.”
For now, Pollock is at his home in Switzerland with his wife. He and his team are heading to Norway and France later this month for the end of this year’s World Cup speed contests. He hopes to return to the United States in March.