From a public lake in Italy to a college in the U.S. to a run this past summer into 43 off, Thomas Degasperi
has come a long way - and he's
still far from finished.
This is Thomas Degasperi
, previously known as "that tall Italian skier who's pretty good" or, to the female students on the University of Louisiana-Monroe campus, "that tall Italian skier who's pretty cute."
is now a name that everyone should know, especially since that one run likely wasn't an isolated event, but a sign of more to come.
"People are looking at me with different eyes," Degasperi
says a few weeks later, his
Italian accent softened after four years at an American college."They expect more from me now." He's
ready to deliver.Degasperi's whole life has led him to this brink of fame, ever since he
got on the water at his
dad's ski school on Caldonazzo Lake in northern Italy.It was just like any public lake in America - well, except for the view of the Alps, the 11th-century castle of the counts von Trapp and the town rule that his
dad's Correct Crafts were and are the only boats allowed on the deep lake. His
dad, Marco, retired in his
mid-30s from teaching physics and dedicated himself to skiing, running the school, competing and passing on that love to Thomas
, who started skiing when he
was 5.In his
age group, he
won a national title at 10 and the European championship at 14.Yet in those years, longtime European instructor Thomas Gustafson, who photographed Degasperi for this issue, remembers a young skier who was a little "stubby."
grew up, in every sense."When I was 15," he
says, "I started taking it more seriously and got better and better - and then it becomes your life."
From age 15 to age 17, Degasperi
world junior ranking from 46th to fourth.He
was enjoying success throughout Italy and Europe as he
got taller, culminating in a fourth place in slalom at the 2001 World Championships, held in his
wanted to build on that by skiing in the winter, something that would require him to leave his
dad's ski school - and the home cooking at his
mom Traudi's restaurant.He
called up the McCormick Ski School
outside Tampa, Florida, to see if he
could practice there and help drive boats.In the meantime, he
had become a lock recruit for ULM, skiing's most decorated college program.Fellow Italian Fred Minnelli was already on Monroe's team and really wanted Degasperi
to join.In Degasperi's fourth month at McCormick's, he signed with ULM.
I have to start over in another country," Degasperi
That October, Degasperi
earned a second-place finish in men's slalom at the 2002 collegiate nationals, helping ULM
to its 17th national title.By the time his
birthday came in January, he
had new friends to toast his
But rather than build on his
spent three months of 2003 on the sidelines as he
recovered from a neck injury.
Also during the past three years, Degasperi
has worked on preparing "how do you say, psycho-, psycholo-" - psychologically."Yes, psychologically, mentally," he
says after his
only English stumble in this entire conversation."I used to get really nervous before a tournament.Now I try to be calm and be aggressive and not think about the crowd, the music, the other competitors."
won another national title in 2004.And on the strength of his
own top finishes, mostly at European tournaments, and the 3 at 41 off run he
could pull out on occasion, Degasperi's world ranking climbed to fifth.
Dodd saw he
was going all out in his
final year at ULM
: "Up until this past year, he'd run 39 in the odd tournament.In practice, our lake is rolly, one of the toughest lakes to slalom anywhere, but Thomas
would be running 4 at 41 - like the second week of training last fall."
At the 2005 collegiate nationals, Degasperi
claimed the slalom crown.But this past spring came the final tweaks that elevated his
skiing (see "How He
Got Into 43 Off").In June, France's Eurolac ski site hosted the Lena Cup tournament.Degasperi
had a run of 5½ at 41 off, besting not just the 12 other European competitors but every other score so far this year.
...When the smoke cleared after the final round, there was a first-place tie at 3 at 41 off among Jason Paredes of the United States, Britain's Glenn Campbell and, yes, Thomas Degasperi.
In the runoff, Degasperi
was first off the dock and powered to that score heard round the world: 1 at 43 off.After that, no one else made it out of 39.
Rather than being universally celebrated, though, Degasperi
heard grumblings, especially from the message board on skifly.com, that his
scores at Eurolac and Ski West weren't fully legit."I'm happy that I proved what I can do.In front of everybody, I ran 41," he
This fall, Degasperi
will actually be back at ULM
for a last semester toward his
marketing degree, though his
sports eligibility has been used up.
The buzz around Degasperi
will follow him wherever he
goes from now on.Can he
break the world record?Is he
really one of the best skiers ever?"That might make me a little more nervous," he
says, "but I'm sure going to work on it."
Got Into 43 OffThomas Degasperi's Italian coach, Andrea Alessi, encouraged him to adopt the one-handed gate.
also switched skis, from the Goode 9600 to the 9700."Trying the one-handed gate and the ski at the same time was super-confusing," he
says, laughing now."I went to the Masters and I fell.I went to the Slalom Shootout in Orlando and I fell."He
went back to the 9600 and back to Italy after the school year.That's when it all came together."The one-handed gate was helping me get wider on 1 ball and carry more speed through a gate," he