PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The original plan was for Alice Merryweather to spend time during the Olympics at home in Hingham, Mass., and compete in college and Nor-Am level ski racing events on the East Coast.
But then, while with the US Ski Team at its training camp ahead of World Cup races in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany — the last Cup event before the Olympics — she was called into a meeting with Chip White, the coach of the women’s speed team.
“He sat me down and he said, ‘So, you know, I was going over the program again last night and I found a couple glitches, and the main one was what if you went to the Olympics instead?’ ” said Merryweather. “And I immediately started crying. I just collapsed. I was bawling.”
Merryweather was one of the final athletes added to the US Ski Team for PyeongChang, only six days before the Opening Ceremony. The opportunity arose when another racer, Jackie Wiles, was injured.
Merryweather, 21, has been rising quickly within the US Ski Team ranks. She won the World Junior Championship downhill in March, was bumped up a level within the US Ski Team for this season, and has been a regular on the World Cup circuit, competing in 12 races.
“She’s young and is learning and has developed quite a bit, and she’s gaining more and more confidence and skiing better and better and maturing daily,” White said.
After White delivered the news, and Merryweather regained some composure, the first person she called was her mother, Liz.
“She thought I was injured because I was crying on the phone and she thought I’d done something in training that morning,” Merryweather said. “But I was like, ‘No, I’m OK, it’s great, I’m really, really good. Going to the Olympics.’ ”
Merryweather’s life has been a blur ever since. She remained with the team through the Garmisch event, then proceeded to PyeongChang.
“It’s been pretty crazy. I didn’t have a lot of time to mentally prepare,” she said. “So this is a very big change.
“It’s just been insane. I’ve gotten so much support, and so many people reached out to me, and I’ve been really humbled by the whole experience. I just feel so lucky to be a part of this team.”
Instead of watching Friday’s Opening Ceremony from Massachusetts, she marched in it with Team USA.
“It’s totally surreal,” she said beforehand. “I don’t think it’s even really hit me that I’m at the Olympics, that I’m going to be competing here.
“I think that when I walk out in the Opening Ceremonies, that’s when it’s going to become completely real, so I’m really looking forward to that and trying not to overthink it or worry myself about what I’m going to be feeling in that moment and just let the emotion overcome me.”
Merryweather has no guarantees that she’ll actually race, although her goal is to start in one of the speed events, which begin Feb. 17 with the women’s super-G at Jeongseon Alpine Centre. The US downhill and super G entries will be determined after the downhill training runs, and the US team features two of the best skiers in the world — Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin.
Merryweather turned her focus to speed events this season, and she is seeing results. In previous years, she competed in all four ski racing disciplines.
“I feel much more comfortable in super-G and downhill than I have in years past,” she said. “I’m getting closer and closer to being in the top 30. I was 31st in my last race.”
Regardless of what happens on the PyeongChang snow, White is confident the experience Merryweather gains this month is better than if she’d followed the original plan.
“I knew that I wanted her to be part of this group, because this is how she is going to grow, is by being around some veterans and some players on the World Cup,” he said.Matt Pepin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpep15.