The Superstar

Sometimes the biggest thing to happen in skiing doesn't have to involve actually skiing. Last week, freestyle skiing icon Kristi Leskinen and her teammate Maksim Chmerkovskiy bested elite athletes like Brandi Chastain, Terrell Owens, and Lisa Leslie to win the 2009 edition of ABC's sports reality show, The Superstars. Her victory makes her the fourth skier in a row to win the competition.
Photo: Adam Larkey/ABC

Kristi Leskinen and teammate Maksim Chmerkovskiy.

ESPN Freeskiing: Congratulations on winning The Superstars. That's an impressive feat, especially considering some of the athletes that you beat. And you probably won an ishload of money, too—
Kristi Leskinen: I did win some money. But, money aside, it was fun—it was awesome. It was an incredible experience, and I was super psyched because the actual events were, for the most part, super challenging.

How challenging is "super challenging"? Would you say "grueling"?
I would definitely say that about some of them. For instance, the Run and Ride that was on the first episode—that was pretty grueling. That was tough. My lungs hurt for three days.

You know when you were playing soccer when you were a kid? And you'd run super fast and you couldn't get a deep breath because your lungs were on fire? It was kind of like that for three days [after the Run and Ride]. It's like pushing something for a good distance as hard as you possibly can. Your team's win makes you the fourth skier in a row to win The Superstars competition. And Bode Miller, who has previously won as well, also took second this year. Do you think there is something about being a skier that gave you an edge against the other competitors?
I actually looked at that too. Before I made the decision to go on the show, I learned that, over the last six years they did the competition, eight out of the twelve contestants that finished first or second were skiers. That's a lot. I don't know what it is. I don't know if skiers have more time on their hands. I think, like, if you're a soccer player, you play soccer. You play soccer in the fall, you play soccer in the spring. Same with football. That's your sport from a young age whereas skiers grow up with a much more dynamic exposure to sports. We still play school sports, or other sports in the summer. Skiers just get exposed to more activities than, say, a basketball player might.
Photo: Jay Michelfelder/Shazamm/ESPN Images

Skiing: A great way to prepare for a sports competition reality show?

It seems like it might be easy to let your participation in a show like The Superstars turn into a free vacation to the Bahamas. Was that ever the case, or did you stay focused and driven the entire time?
It was a total, full-on, serious contest. There was a lot of money at stake—more money than I could ever win at X Games. So I was going for it, for sure. I was stretching every night, getting massages, anything I could do to make sure I was fresh for the next day. We shot almost every day. I think we had three days off the whole time. And everybody used those days to practice for whatever the next event was going to be. Whenever we're out filming on the mountain, the key phrase is "hurry up and wait." That's exactly how it was shooting a television show. They'd be like, "All right, you're going to sprint a mile, wait 20 minutes...okay, get ready...oh, hold on, it's going to be a half an hour." And that made [the physical demands of the show] really challenging. That sounds like a situation where your professional skiing background played a very advantageous role. In many other sports, especially the traditional sports, athletes aren't often required to wait for the cameras the way they are in skiing. Even in serious competitions like Winter X, the competitors regularly get iced by technical issues and commercial breaks.
Yeah. So many of our events are made for TV. When you got on set with all those Superstars, was there anybody that you were really, truly starstruck by?
I was excited to meet the athletes, for sure: Lisa Leslie—she's an amazing person; Brandy Chastain—what she's done for United States women's soccer is remarkable; T.O. was super fun to be around. It was cool because I was meeting a lot of people that I felt like I already knew, you know? You said before that the atmosphere was very competitive. How did Bode take going down to the freestyle skier? Was he all right with it?
Yeah, for sure. The advantage that we, as female athletes, had was that all the male celebrities were also pretty good athletes. David Charvet was a really good athlete, and so was Julio Iglesias, Jr. And My partner was [Maksim Chmerkovskiy] great. All the male celebrities were great athletes. And the female celebrities were more models. Bode had a great teammate, and he was scheming every way he could. He's actually a phenomenal athlete. He absolutely smoked the obstacle course. I think he would have beaten Terrel Owens through it.
Photo: Getty Images

Kristi Leskinen ripping the halfpipe training at Winter X.

I'm sure that he's a phenomenal athlete. I've seen him ski. And he's strong enough to hold on where nobody else can. So that's pretty strong.
Yeah. That's for sure. I like that quote. He definitely is. As this this year's champions, will you and Mr. Chmerkovskiy have the opportunity to defend your title on the next season of The Superstars?
No, I don't think so. Hopefully we'll get to be involved in some way when they bring the show back, but for now, no. It's just like Dancing With The Stars, or one of those other shows where you just do it and move on as the reigning champs, I guess. Any chance that you're going to parlay this reality show success into some reality series of your own à la I Love New York?
No. No, I don't want a show that's centered around me. It was just kind of a fun thing to do. And if another similar opportunity came along, I don't think I'd turn it down, obviously depending on what it was.
Photo: Adam Larkey/ABC

Kristi sprints down a dock during the Water Leap competition.

I would never go on a lot of the typical reality shows. But this one was [focused on] things I grew up doing. I played like every sport up to a super competitive level, like swimming, and track, and soccer. And my family ran a marina when I was growing up in Pennsylvania. So I grew up on the water, riding jetskis and kayaking. So I couldn't have planned a reality show that would be more suited to what I can do.

That and you don't have to put your personal life and your personality out there for some video editor to have a field day with.
That was what was so cool about the show in general. It was based on sports. It wasn't like some gimme-the-drama thing. There were even some moments of drama on the set and they decided not to show it because they wanted it to be sport-based.

Ooh, drama! Tell me some drama that didn't make the cut!
Well there was the whole T.O.-Joanna row. She blew up. That was hilarious. Jennifer Capriati left the show. Bode and Paige knew that they couldn't win in the Golf Race, which was like a mile run. And so they just stopped halfway and Bode went and got a drink [laughs], because he knew it wasn't worth pushing himself in that situation. So he stopped, instead of doing what I did, which was push myself in the 90-degree heat until I got cramps like you can't even imagine. Bode was smart to think, "Well, I'm not going to win this one, so I'm not going to do it," to save energy for later events. Cool stuff like that would happen that didn't make the final cut. Cool. Closing words?
[Competing in The Superstars] was really fun. It was a really cool thing to be a part of.

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