If you didn't see Nolan Kasper gutting it out in the final splits of the 2011 World Cup slalom in Beaver Creek, Colorado, watch the video. It's a history-making performance. The 23-year-old Vermonter hadn't eaten a meal in two days (because of a virus) and had undergone major hip surgery to repair a torn labrum three months earlier. Despite all that, he came in fourth – a mere 0.70 seconds behind the Croatian winner – cementing his status as the newest star of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team and the guy with a ton of heart. He sees it more plainly.

"If you're not gonna do it, somebody else is," says Kasper, who strapped into his first pair of skis at age three, started racing at age six, and made his way from Olympic development team to A team in three hard-fought years. "There's a fine line between being OK, being good, and being great. And getting over that line takes a lot of work."

If it sounds like it's all downhill and no downtime for Kasper, think again. At summer training camp in New Zealand, he and his teammates bungee jump, drift on icy test tracks, skydive, and play "Full-Contact Speedball" – a rugby-like game they created in which a carrier has to knock down three goals before he's tackled. "Games get pretty intense," he says.

"You put a bunch of really competitive guys in a room and things are bound to get out of hand." When skiing, though, Kasper is always in control, something that will surely be witnessed November 11, when he takes a stab at the World Cup podium in Finland. His performance should earn him notoriety across America, but he's not concerned with that.

"If it happens, it happens. First thing you got to do is ski well. That's on you."

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