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Tom Kelly

Hall of Fame Class of 2018

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Passionate, dedicated and authentic, Tom Kelly excelled as the voice of the U.S. Ski Team through three decades—and 100 Olympic medals.

Seven-year-old Tom Kelly stared in fascination at the black-and-white TV in the family room of his childhood home in Madison, Wis., transfixed by coverage of the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics, and, in a hint of things to come, in particular by Penny Pitou’s silver medal in the downhill. “I was captivated,” recalls Kelly, who came from a non-skiing family. “I knew then that I wanted to have something to do with skiing.”

As an unusually industrious teen, a trait that would mark his professional career, Kelly established himself as a multi-tasking journalist on the local scene, writing and shooting photos for local newspapers. He soon found himself at the Blackhawk Ski Jump in nearby Middleton, where members of the U.S. Ski Jumping Team were training on plastic snow, the first in the country. Getting to know the jumpers was pivotal, and Kelly quickly adapted to a routine that would mark the hundreds of media days to follow, shooting action, team and head shots.

In the fall of 1977, Kelly was hired as the PR Director at Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wis., an innovative nordic resort where legendary proprietor Tony Wise would have a huge impact on his life. It’s also where he met Carole Duh, who would become his wife in a marriage for over 30 years (with four children and 10 grandkids).

Those experiences would propel Kelly to join the U.S. Ski Association in 1986, and in 1988 he would step into a public relations leadership role that he would hold for the next three decades as the team’s VP of Communications. He was the consistent and articulate voice in a period that saw five different team CEOs and numerous interim leaders, through good times and bad. A poll of ski journalists singled out one word to describe Kelly’s style: “authentic.” Even when charged with advancing the company line, Kelly was available, honest and, most of all, passionate.

In his tenure, U.S. athletes would win 100 Olympic medals (he was in the finish area for 75 of those) and 50 more in World Championships. The disciplines he covered expanded dramatically, with the addition of freestyle, snowboarding and freeskiing. He typically spent 125 days on the road, less than the coaching staff, he notes, but still substantial, often racking up 150,000 frequent flier miles a year. The nature of his job was 24/7. Always on the cutting edge of technology (he was a ham radio operator at age 11), Kelly was always ahead of the game as the tools evolved from typewriters, teletype and fax machines to today’s social media, which also presented the opportunity for his athletes to speak directly to the world 24/7. All that background set him up perfectly to serve as the chair of the FIS PR and Mass Media Committee for the past decade.

With so many to choose from, Kelly struggles to rank his favorite team highlights. Tommy Moe’s 1994 downhill gold stands out, as does Picabo Street’s miraculous 1995 World Cup season (winning six downhills and becoming the first U.S. skier to win a speed event overall title), and Shaun White’s rebirth and snowboard gold in the 2018 Olympics. But the biggest moment came at the 2018 Olympics, when Jesse Diggins and Kikkan Randall won the Team Sprint gold medal in cross-country, the first Olympic cross-country medal since Bill Koch’s silver in 1976. Given Kelly’s nordic roots, his longtime friendships with the athletes, and the long dry spell it broke, the performance served as the perfect encore in Kelly’s last Olympics as the team’s communications leader. “Nothing will ever eclipse that,” says Kelly, who was in the finish area when it happened and had even dyed his trademark beard hot pink, in a nod to Diggins’ own locks.

Kelly carries an encyclopedic memory of race history, and was always available to share it. He is a prolific writer, penning hundreds of columns for the local Park City paper, a skilled photographer, and an inspirational public speaker who traversed the country to address audiences large and small. He served as a board member and then chairman of the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame, where he modernized selection criteria, and is the chairman of the Alf Engen Ski Museum. When he recently learned he was being honored with USOC’s Building Dreams Award, his first reaction was disappointment—he’d nominated and lobbied hard for a coaching colleague to win the award. Never one to rest, Kelly has launched a new undertaking, Tom Kelly Communications LLC, a PR consulting agency.

“I never had any interest in doing anything else,” Kelly says of his USST experience. “It was the most perfect career anyone could have.”

Career Accomplishments:

1977-84: Serves as Public Relations Director at the legendary Telemark Lodge, promoting the American Birkebeiner and World Cup Cross-Country events.
1980: Founds Worldwide Nordic USA with friend Peter Graves, an international adventure travel company focusing on cross-country and cycling marathons.
1986-88: Serves as assistant nordic director with the U.S. Ski Association, then based in Colorado Springs.
1988-2018: Named Public Relations Director and later Vice President of Communications for USSA/USST.
1990: Joined board of directors of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, serving as its chairman from 2014 to 2019.
2006: Named chairman of the FIS Public Relations and Mass Media Committee.
2017: Named chairman of the Alf Engen Ski Museum in Park City.
2018: Honored with the USOC Building Dreams Award and the Myles Rademan Spirit of Hospitality Award.
2018: Founds Tom Kelly Communications, a public relations company focusing on Olympic sports based in Park City.

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