Getting the call: Krichko into Maine Sports Hall of Fame

The only drawback for Leslie Krichko? She had to give a speech.

“I was extremely nervous and stressed out,” said Krichko, a longtime Ridgefield resident and two-time Olympian. “I’m not a fan of public speaking.”

Krichko’s words were called for on May 21, when she was among 14 inductees into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame who were honored during a ceremony at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. The inductees also included Krichko’s sister-in-law, Angela Bancroft, a world-class Ironman competitor.

Krichko grew up in Paris, Maine, and attended Oxford Hills High School, where she ran cross country and joined the school’s nascent cross-country ski team. “I was used to skiing alpine events,” said Krichko. “Cross-country skiing was relatively new for me, but I took to it quickly.”

Krichko won the girls state championship as a sophomore, ramped up her training, and joined the Eastern Cup circuit. She then made the U.S. junior national team, winning several races during her senior year (1977) in high school.

Invited to train with the national team, Krichko put off college and earned a spot on the U.S. cross country team for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. With a vocal fan club of friends and relatives cheering her on, Krichko finished 33rd in the 5K race and 28th in the 10K race before helping the Americans place seventh in a relay event.

Krichko planned to compete in the 1984 Winter Games, but a foot injury that required surgery led to her early retirement in 1983.

Two years later, she was back.

“I was married and working two days a week at a ski shop in Oregon (where Krichko had moved to attend Portland State University), and the owner encouraged me to get back into the sport,” she said. “I was his top salesperson, and he thought it was due to my passion for skiing.”

Krichko placed fifth at the 1985 nationals in Oregon and was named to the U.S. Olympic squad for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta. Her fan club made the trek, watching Krichko lead the U.S. women by placing 31st in the 5K and 36th in the 10K.

Krichko left the national team for good after that, eventually moving with her second husband to Ridgefield and becoming a Realtor (she currently works for Sotheby’s). The couple have four children — the youngest, Kalia, is a junior at the University of Michigan, where she rows on the top boat for the women’s crew team.

On winter weekends, Krichko and her husband head to their house in Bethel, Maine. “My family is still in Maine — I’m the only one who defected — so we can see them and also walk out the door of our house and get on a 40-kilometer cross country course,” said Krichko. “That ski shop owner was right. I still love this sport.”

Note: This story ran in the May 25 edition of The Ridgefield Press.