Hometown: Tahoe City, California
Olympic discipline(s): Downhill and Super-G
Career achievements: Three-time Olympian; 1st place, 2008 World Cup Chamonix Downhill; 3rd place, 2012 World Cup Lake Louise Downhill; 2nd place, 2007 World Cup Lake Louise Downhill; Two-time National Downhill Champion (2009 and 2007)
Marco Sullivan doesn't remember skiing the downhill at the World Cup in Bormio, Italy, on December 29, 2010—no recollection of catching his inside edge, slamming face-first into the snow, and somersaulting into gates until his limp body came to a stop. His concussion erased everything. By then, he'd been on the U.S. Ski Team for a decade, competing at the Salt Lake City and Vancouver Olympics with several U.S. Championship titles and a handful of top World Cup finishes under his belt. He was just gaining momentum when the crash halted his career. But that was 2010, and now, three years later, Sullivan is fully recovered and back on the World Cup circuit, recently finishing 22nd in the downhill on his fateful course—Bormio.
The crash was kind of ugly. It's on YouTube and I guess it was pretty bad. I had a lot of memory loss. I got knocked out and rag-dolled down the course. I hate watching when that happens to other guys. It happened to me and I don't remember it at all.
From my perspective, the concussed person, I felt fine. But then I took these impact tests and my reaction was really slow. I wasn't ready to come back, even though I felt fine. That was frustrating.
Your body, your mind, you don't want to go back. You don't want to be back in a hospital bed. I've spent a lot of time in the hospital in my career.
In Lake Louise, the top 30 racers were only separated by two seconds. I knew it was still up for grabs… I just charged and had a good run. I knew my run was decent, but I didn't know how good until I got to the finish and looked at my time.
We race the same guys on the World Cup as we do in the Olympics. If you take away all the hoopla and the media, for us the Olympics are just another race. But it definitely isn't because you have the spotlight on you.
When you say, "I'm an Olympian," people automatically respect that. That's what's special about the Olympics. It has such tradition. Once you're a part of that, you're a part of that forever. It goes above and beyond just ski racing.
The mountains in Sochi get a lot of snow and moisture coming off the Black Sea. The downhill venue is a cool course. There are some big jumps, turning sections, flatter sections—it's got a little bit of everything, even an avalanche zone. Right out of the start, you're underneath some pretty exposed chutes. If those slid they could cover the course.
If you're fourth place in a World Cup race, you get a lot of points and money and it's pretty good still, even if you're not on the podium. But in the Olympics, no one remembers you if you're fourth place. So it's all about trying to win. You're going to take as many risks as you can.