Biesemeyer steps away from competitive racing
Standing in the start gate of the Pyeongchang Olympic downhill for the final training run prior to his first Olympic bid, Thomas “BZ” Biesemeyer was hopeful. That start gate moment, in and of itself, was an accomplishment — the culmination of countless hours of hard work, or the “grind” as he refers to it.
It was cold that day in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He took a deep breath and pushed out of the start gate.
And then, it happened.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, though, with a sport full of variables like alpine ski racing, it usually isn’t. The downhill was originally scheduled to take place on Sunday, but with wind gusts reaching nearly 50 mph, it was postponed to the following Thursday. And so, in the final “optional” training run on Wednesday, just one day before Biesemeyer would get the chance to show the entire world what he was made of, he crashed, hit his head, and was knocked out. Soon after, he got up, trying to piece it back together, and he couldn’t feel his foot. It was his Achilles. It was that moment that kind of marked the beginning of the end of his career.
Two-and-a-half years after Biesemeyer’s 2018 Olympic heartbreak, the native of Keene who learned to race at Whiteface Mountain with the New York Ski Education Founndation, made it official. On Thursday, Oct. 1, Biesemeyer announced that he will be stepping away from the sport of ski racing. At least for now.
Biesemeyer’s injury-plagued career with the United States Ski Team began as an 18-year-old on the development team. A year later, he skyrocketed straight from invitee status to the B Team.That’s a trajectory most athletes don’t experience. Many athletes hang at the NorAm level and move up to Europa Cup before advancing to World Cup competition.
Biesemeyer was different.
At 22, he was ranked top-30 in super-G and snagged a 13th-place finish in super-G at World Championships in Schladming, Austria in 2013, but later was plagued with injury.
During his 12-year career, Biesemeyer was a consistent FIS Ski World Cup point-scorer in both downhill and super-G, which was highlighted by a career-best top-10 (eighth) result in Santa Caterina, Italy in 2016, as well as an 11th-place in the Xfinity Birds of Prey super-G at Beaver Creek, Colo. in 2015 on a historical day where teammates Ted Ligety and Lake Placid’s Andrew Weibrecht went two and three, and Travis Ganong was sixth, as the Americans stacked four into the top-11.
Like most hard-charging speed skiers, Biesemeyer dealt with and overcame a fair share of injuries. He was hurt prior to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, and again before the 2014 Sochi Games when he tore his ACL, MCL, lateral meniscus, and medial meniscus. This injury required two years of recovery and was still painful. His career includes back surgery, shoulder surgery, and a broken jaw, plus more.
Often the fastest on any training day, Biesemeyer demands excellence, trains hard, and finds joy in the work. But after his Achilles injury, it was challenging. A nagging staph infection led to multiple surgeries delaying his preparation, and his return to the mountain was anything but easy. He scored a couple of times in his comeback season but lost his funding with the U.S. Ski Team. With multiple finishes just outside of the points (the top-30), his frustration grew.
The lack of performance was grinding Biesemeyer down to a point where he would get in the start gate of a race where he was about to reach speeds of 100 mph, and have little confidence. And then, he crashed in Wengen in January 2020 and tweaked his knee.
He went back home to Keene to rehab his tweaked knee in hopes he could give it one more shot at the end of the season. He traveled to Kvitfjell, Norway in early March for the final speed series of the FIS Ski World Cup season, but he did not feel ready to step into the start gate of a World Cup downhill. When COVID struck, and most were devastated with the abrupt end of the season, Biesemeyer said he felt relief.
“I was so tired mentally from the sport, and what I put into it, especially this spring,” he said. “When COVID hit, it was a relief for me. I was not ready to race at that time.”
After that, he went home and hunkered down. He started to do other things.
“It was some much-needed self-reflection, and it was a positive experience,” he said.
This past summer, Biesemeyer mulled over returning to racing. He tried to work out but didn’t feel like his heart was there. As his former teammates went to Zermatt, Switzerland for a camp and he watched their Instagram stories, he wondered how he’d respond.
He might have surprised himself when he wasn’t losing sleep over the fact that he wasn’t there. He said he doesn’t know what it will be like to watch the races unfold, and he’s curious to know how it will feel to “…just be on the sidelines, not from injury, but by my own choice. I’m not sure…maybe it will create a fire in me and I’ll think, ‘Wow, I made a horrible mistake. I have to get back there,'” he said. “That may sound ridiculous, but if that is the case, I’m prepared to be like, alright, I’m going to… do what it takes to make a run at this.
“I’m not entirely shutting the door, but I’m taking a break right now, and most likely retiring,” he said.
“I’ll miss the guys. I think what is so cool about being on the team is that you share your dream with teammates who have the same dream. And that’s what makes it tough, but that’s what makes it cool.”
Biesemeyer remembered his first-ever ski camp with the U.S. Ski Team at Mammoth Mountain, California as a fond memory. He recalled a teammate and friend, Olympic champion Ted Ligety, as well as Steven Nyman and Marco Sullivan being there.
“Guys in the peaks of their career. I was 20 years old or whatever, and I felt like I was a part of that group. I came back from that camp to my room, and it was very surreal,” he said. “And I was like, ‘I should probably take their posters off my wall, or should keep them on?’ I was sort of conflicted — like where am I on this spectrum? I was in a position where I was trying to learn from them but also trying to be competitive with them, and beat them…and here I have their posters on my wall.”