BARDONECCHIA, Italy — Rosey Fletcher will make history today by becoming the only snowboarder to have competed in three Winter Olympics.
She'll represent the United States, but also Alaska and, more intimately, her hometown of Girdwood, a rural community 38 miles south of Anchorage, with fewer than 2,000 residents.
A parallel giant slalom specialist and star on the World Cup circuit, Fletcher is a celebrity back home, where she can't go anywhere without practically everyone but the moose and bears stopping to say hello.
"Everybody in Girdwood knows her, but Alaska as a whole is pretty small, so she has great recognition wherever she goes -- and everybody loves Rosey Fletcher," said Todd Clark, a spokesman for Alyeska Ski Resort, Fletcher's home mountain.
With such fame, the snowboarder said, comes an enormous amount of pressure because all of Girdwood, minus the moose and bears, is counting on Fletcher to \o7finally\f7 earn an Olympic medal and really give them something to boast about.
"People are just so happy for you and they want to see you do so well, and as an athlete all you want to do is make them proud, and they become like your family," the blue-eyed Fletcher said with her trademark cheeriness. "You just want to make them so happy and be so proud of you, and that's so much pressure to put on yourself."
Perhaps, but in the week or so leading to race day, there have been two sides to Fletcher. Although she wants desperately to fulfill a childhood dream and turn Girdwood into the home of an Olympic champion, she's minus the stress that kept her from enjoying the previous two Olympics.
To be sure, with age -- she turned 30 in November -- has come a mellowness not evident at Nagano in 1998 or at Salt Lake City in 2002. The focus remains, said Steve Persons, one of her coaches, but for the first time -- and this is a good thing, he said -- she is treating the Olympics as just another competition.
Standing at the base of the parallel giant slalom course, smiling under brilliant sunshine, Fletcher acknowledged a strange but wonderful calm, brought about in no small part, she said, by her recent engagement to a fellow Alaskan.
"I just realized that I've done a complete 360 from where I was in Nagano in '98," she said. "Older people have told me that it's an age thing, but I think I've just come to grips with not defining myself through results and not putting so much pressure on myself in one event.
"So I find that being here right now is really exciting and refreshing and I feel like I'm seeing things with new eyes."
Back to the other side of Fletcher: She has been riding well in training, Persons said, and it's clear that she wants to avoid a repeat of what happened at Nagano, when she crashed during her first run in the giant slalom competition and did not finish.
She fared almost as poorly in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympics, where as a strong medal contender in the parallel giant slalom event, she fell and finished 26th.
"I would say that her training has stepped up a notch, and that tells me she's a lot looser this time around," Persons said.
Fletcher, a silver medalist at the world championships in 1999 and 2001, remains an elite-level competitor and, as one of two U.S. entries in today's competition, is perhaps her country's best hope to earn a podium spot.
"It looks like the old Rosey is coming back," Persons said.
Fletcher ranks eighth in the parallel giant slalom discipline on the World Cup circuit and teammate Michelle Gorgone, 22, ranks 16th. Daniela Meuli of Switzerland and Julie Pomagalski of France are Nos. 1-2 but there is not a dominating World Cup presence and the Olympic field is not as deep as that of most World Cup events.
"Both of us are riding really good and we've been riding good all year," Fletcher said. "So I really truly believe we can [make the podium]."
Clark said today is "Rosey Fletcher Day" at Alyeska, "to celebrate her run in the Olympics" and to honor an athlete who has mentored others in youth programs. There are signs throughout Girdwood reading, "Go Rosey!" and "We love you, Rosey!"
Fletcher gets emotional when she thinks about so much support being showered upon someone who snowboards for a living, especially since there was a time not too long ago when she wished to cut her small-town ties and settle in a big city.
That may be her only regret, she said, adding, "There's a famous saying that goes, 'Man searches the world for what he needs and returns home to find it.' And that describes me to a T. You get out and see the world and then you realize, 'I'm pretty lucky to be from such a unique, awesome place.' "