Last Thursday the man of the moment was on his way to make the news of the moment in Aspen, Colo.—"news," in this case, being loosely defined as anything that might happen to tumble out of his mouth. In order to be the first to record the exact moment of the man's arrival, a television news crew had positioned itself in a corridor at the bottom of a staircase in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. A camera was set up, the stairs were studied for any sign of the man, and the vigil commenced.
The newshounds were still poised there when Tommy Moe, last month's American gold medal winner in the Olympic downhill and silver medal winner in the Super G, slouched by, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap. No one on the stakeout team moved, and inasmuch as not one of them had the slightest idea what this newly minted American hero looked like, not a frame of film was shot as Moe shuffled off to a press conference. It was at that moment that Diane Tegmeyer, the chief press officer for the World Cup downhill races that were to be run on Aspen Mountain over the following two days, spoke up. "I ran up to them all exasperated," Tegmeyer says, "and I go, 'Uh, guys, I think you missed him.' "
The stakeout was just one more manifestation of the Moe-mania that held Aspen in its grip last week. From the Silver City Grille, where a Moe Burger (made of turkey, of all things) was a brisk seller at $6.50, to the bar at the Hotel Jerome, all of Aspen resonated like a rock opera with the sound of Moe's name: "Tommy! Tommy! Tommy, can you hear me!"
He signed shirts, American flags, skis, and on Friday afternoon, after finishing 55th in that morning's race—ahead of only seven other racers, including skiers from those Alpine hot spots Senegal and Puerto Rico—he was the star of an autograph session for the U.S. men's downhill team. At least a thousand people, many of them women in fur pelts and stretch pants trying very hard to look blasè, lined up for a look. "It's kind of overwhelming coming back to the U.S. and all of a sudden being kind of a hero," Moe said. "It's kind of tough, you know? From being a guy who nobody bothered with, to instant stardom, but I'm all for it. I'm going to make a lot of money."
Moe's popularity is the result of personality and timing, says former U.S. Ski Team coach and TV analyst Bob Beattie. "He came around when America really wanted to see a winner. And not only a winner but a guy that every father could say, 'I'd like to have him as my son.' I've had so many kids come up and say that he's somebody that you can relate to."
Moe had hoped to ease back into competition in Aspen, "take what I can get," he said, but presumably not embarrass himself after all the post-Olympic celebrating. Last Friday's race was a makeup for an event that had been canceled in February. Moe's dreadful 55th-place finish came on skis that he first said had a badly beveled edge and later said were peeling on the top side. "It was like skiing on spoons," he said after finishing 3.26 seconds behind winner Hannes Trinkl of Austria. "It seemed like my skis were walking away from me. But it's no big deal. Today's just another race. I've already had my great result this season. It's kind of hard to get back up after what happened to me the last couple of weeks."
In Saturday morning's race he wound up 20th, and as he came stumbling down the mountain, you could hear groans from the crowd every time one of his intermediate times was announced. "I didn't have the strength to hold the turns," he said. "I'm kind of out of it."
When someone asked Moe if he thought people might conclude from his performances in Aspen that he was a flash in the pan and his Olympic win had been a fluke, he became livid. "Did you say I was a flash in the pan, buddy?" he said. "I'm not a flash in the pan. I just won the Olympics."
A moment later the anger was gone, and Moe seemed depressed that he had let down his American supporters. "It's kind of disappointing for them," he said, "and it's kind of embarrassing for me not to do as well as I wanted to. I'm just tired."
If the man of the moment hadn't known when he arrived in Aspen how difficult it can be to make the moment last, he knew now. "It's definitely sunk in," Moe said. "I feel like I'm getting yanked in all different directions by people wanting little pieces of me. But it's no problem. I'm having a good time. I'm more than happy to be in the spotlight. If I wasn't, I wouldn't be as happy as I am now." Then, as if to remind himself that, hey, he had won the gold medal, Moe said hopefully, "I don't really have any pressure on me. Just what I put on myself."
Depending on how he handles it, that could be enough.
The Olympic downhill champion is learning the price of fame.