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Chris Klug - First Olympic Transplantee

snowboard slalom time poppen

Five years prior to the Nagano Olympics, in 1993 at age twenty, Klug had confronted an unnerving medical diagnosis when he was found ailing with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC). Doctors stabilized his condition with semi-annual liver treatments until 2000 when the treatments lost their effectiveness.

During the Grand Prix Overall Alpine Championships that year his strength waned. The following spring, he awoke one morning, feeling severe pain in his side, caused by a blockage in his bile ducts. The need for a transplant was then critical; Klug's health deteriorated. His weight dropped to 190 pounds, and he developed anemia, but met the challenge of a pending organ transplant with rare fortitude. He occupied himself with maintaining his fitness in order to minimize his recuperation time.

Chronology

1972 Born on November 18 in Vail, Colorado
1976 Moves with parents to Bend, Oregon
1991 Goes professional; participates in 25-30 events as a rookie; finishes in eighth place in first World Cup slalom event (Garmish, Germany)
1993 Receives a diagnosis of PSC
2000 Grand Prix Overall Alpine Champion; receives a new liver on July 28; returns to competition in November
2001 Wins first World Cup event after transplant

Awards and Accomplishments

Klug won back-to-back Northwest Series Overall Championships.
Klug is a three-time junior amateur Mt. Baker Banked Slalom Champion.
1988 Won Professional Snowboard Tour ($4,000)
1989 Slalom National Amateur Championship
1997 U.S. Open Slalom championship
1998 Named as the top pick on the first-ever U.S. Olympic snowboarding team
2000 Grand Prix Overall Alpine Champion
2001 U.S. National Champion
2002 Bronze medal, Winter Olympics

A compatible organ became available on July 28, 2000, and Klug was admitted to the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. There he underwent the exhaustive transplant surgery, which lasted more than six

Chris Klug

hours. To the general amazement of all, he was out of bed and riding an exercise bike within two days of the surgery. He returned home in four days.

Barely seven weeks passed before Klug was preparing to re-board his board. In November he resumed competition, winning first place in a parallel slalom. He nailed a victory in a World Cup event by January of 2001.

February of 2002 brought the Winter Olympic Games to Salt Lake City and with it the second-ever Olympic snowboarding competition in history. For the giant slalom event at Park City Mountain Resort, Klug qualified as number eleven of sixteen competitors. In snowboarding's giant slalom, boarders compete in pairs, making timed runs on parallel courses. The competitors switch courses for a second run, and their time on the second run is added to their time from the first run, to calculate a combined final score. Klug made successful runs and advanced into the semifinals where he lost to Swiss boarder Philipp Schoch in the wake of a disappointing crash. The crash carried a steep penalty that day of 1.78 seconds, based on the trial times of the athletes. In the end Schoch took it all—winning the gold for Switzerland.

Although he crashed out of the finals, Klug was encouraged, knowing that a medal remained within his grasp. With gold and silver out of reach, he faced a pair of runs versus Nicolas Huet of France in a race for the bronze medal. In the first run Klug bested Huet but took little time to gloat when confronted by a potentially disastrous-setback of a broken boot buckle. He jury-rigged a temporary fastener with duct tape, hoped for the best, and went into the final run with a 0.15 second advantage. Klug ended the run with a plump margin of 1.2 seconds, to win the bronze decisively, with a total margin of 1.36.

Klug returned to Aspen a hero, and the city threw a parade in his honor, despite frigid temperatures. The victory was celebrated nationwide; Klug was invited—and accepted the invitation—to the New York Stock Exchange, to ring the opening bell. Similarly the Detroit Tigers invited Klug to throw out the first pitch at a game. At the Transplant Games in Orlando, Florida, Klug was given the honor of lighting the torch. Television talk shows, and morning news shows hosted Klug and encouraged him to share his story with the viewing public.

Klug remained unmarried in 2003. He splits his time between a residence in Sisters, Oregon, and a family home in Aspen. Fly-fishing, golf, mountain biking, and water skiing fill his time when he is not snowboarding. In 2001 he established the Burton/Klug snowboard camp for youth at Aspen, where attendance tripled to 100 during the second season of operation.

Related Biography: Engineer Charles Poppen

According to most accounts, Charles Poppen fabricated the prototype of the first commercially manufactured snowboard in 1965. His immediate goal was to make a toy for his daughter, but in 1966 he obtained a patent for his invention. It is not likely that Poppen, a chemical gases engineer living in Muskegon, Michigan, envisioned an Olympic sport as he lashed two skis together into a wider plane, similar to a surfboard.

Poppen called his invention a Snurfer and licensed it to Brunswick Corporation for mass production and sales to retail outlets. Dimitrije Milovich founded Winterstick, the first company established exclusively for the production of snowboards, in 1969. By 1970 Snurfer fans were engaging each other in annual contests.

Although Poppen's Snurfer attracted the most attention, reports of snowboard designers date back as early as 1929, to an experimental apparatus built by M. J. Jack Burchett. A Tom Sims model, on display at the Colorado Snowboard and Ski Museum in Vail Colorado, pre-dates Poppen's first attempt by two years.

The sleek, modern surfboard-like designs of third millennium snow-boards were pioneered by Jake Burton Carpenter and Chuck Barfoot individually in the late 1970s.

Klug's interest in snowboarding was aroused at age eleven, when manufactured snowboards were relatively new on the market. With nowhere to turn for advice, his early technique on the board was largely self-taught. Before winning the North American Junior Championship in 1987 he turned to a Bend area ski instructor, Bob Roy, for guidance. Roy accepted the challenge, however skeptically, and went on to head an international team. It is said that Sherman Poppen invented the snowboard, but if the sport had its pioneers, then Klug's name must appear on the list. The first-ever athlete named to the U.S. Olympic team on snowboard, he was also the first athlete ever to win an Olympic medal after undergoing transplant surgery.

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