As a young boy, Tom Kelly watched the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics on television and was instantly hooked. “I was captivated by it,” he says. “Being involved with the sport is all I’ve ever wanted to do since then.” His love for snowsliding grew on the sidelines of ski jumps in his native Wisconsin where, from his car, he’d watch as skiers flew off the enormous kickers and honk the horn whenever someone caught particularly good air. By high school, he was the photographer for the US Nordic Team’s jumpers, which eventually led to his first job with US Ski & Snowboard as assistant Nordic director. But the role that Kelly—or TK as he’s lovingly referred to by peers around the world—is best known for is as the exuberant voice, and often literally the face, for American snowsliding athletes as the communications director for US Ski & Snowboard, a post he’s held for the last 32 years.
Kelly’s wise, fatherly guidance to athletes navigating the press gauntlet and his upbeat, persistent support of American skiers and snowboarders is legendary. The dedicated foodie recently got up at 3 a.m. to cook his staff a full breakfast before an early-morning meeting, and he built a large barn on his property just so “I could have the whole cross-country team over for a barbecue,” he says.
In his quest to promote US athletes over three decades, this master storyteller has written more than 200 columns for the Park Record, recorded 1,000 radio shows, completed 125 international trips, flown 3 million miles to competitions, and has been in the finish area for 70 medals at 10 Olympics. Favorite moments? “Well, there was Tommy Moe’s downhill win in Lillehammer and Picabo Street’s super-G win by a hundredth of a second at Nagano. But what happened at the PyeongChang Olympics will never be replaced,” he says, referring to Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins’s gold medal win in the cross-country women’s team sprint. “It’s been 42 years since an American won a gold medal in cross-country. The majority of Americans weren’t even born then. Our whole sport was celebrating. It was like the second coming.”
Though he chooses to say “relaunch” instead of “retire,” Kelly makes his long-planned exit from the team in June. Aside from doing more hiking, jeeping, and freelance photography (“I’m going to take the whole month of July to photograph barns,” he says), his relaunch plans include “continuing to tell stories, particularly about Olympic sport.”