Ryan Cochran-Siegle Talks About A Positive Mindset, His Olympic Silver Medal & Focus For The 2023/2024 Ski Season
by Peggy Shinn
Ryan Cochran-Siegle knew what an Olympic medal was probably before most kids. His mom, Barbara Ann Cochran, won an Olympic gold medal in slalom at the 1972 Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo.
“Growing up with my mom and her medal, getting to hold it when I was a little kid, I don’t think I appreciated really what the significance of it was because it was always just there,” he said during a recent Red Bench Speaker Series for the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum.
As of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, Cochran-Siegle has an Olympic medal of his own — a silver from the men’s super-G. So, he appreciates what his mom’s medal means far more now than he did as a kid.
The 31-year-old alpine skier known as RCS has learned a lot from his mom over the years — but not what most people think. She was not his coach on the hill. But starting in his childhood, Cochran-Siegle learned how to develop a good mindset from his mom, who runs her own coaching business to help teach people how to handle the pressure of competition.
After a disappointing season last year, where he neared but didn’t make the podium, Cochran-Siegle is relying on this mindset as he looks to the 2023/2024 season — and beyond.
The youngest of the next generation of “Skiing Cochrans,” Cochran-Siegle grew up skiing at his family’s ski area in Richmond, Vermont. Cochran’s Ski Area was built by his grandfather Mickey Cochran for his four kids: Marilyn, Bobby, Barbara Ann, and Lindy, who all competed on the world cup tour and at the Winter Olympic Games. Their race bibs — and Barbara Ann’s Rossignol Strato skis that carried her to Olympic gold — hang from the base lodge ceiling. Mickey and wife Ginny ran the ski area for kids in the community too.
But skiing did not consume Cochran-Siegle’s life when he was young. Like the rest of his family — his aunts, uncles, and many cousins — he loved being outdoors and played other sports, like soccer and baseball. In high school, he helped the Mt. Abraham Union High School baseball team make the state championship finals four consecutive years and win the title twice.
When he was skiing, Cochran-Siegle was not coached by his mom in the traditional sense. She took him to training and races but let him discover his own self. One of her main influences was to help her son overcome negative thinking, which can subconsciously sabotage the mind.
“It’s like if I say, ‘I’m not going to crash at that gate,’ all your subconscious hears is ‘I’m going to crash at that gate,’” Cochran-Siegle explained.
Instead, he learned to think: “I’m going to stand really strong on my outside ski at this gate.”
Cochran-Siegle showed his ski talents early, and in 2012, at age 19, became the first American man to win two titles at the same junior world championships (downhill and combined). But Cochran-Siegle did not develop into the brash downhiller stereotype. Introspective and thoughtful, he has embraced hard work and humility. He has had great races, like his first world cup win in December 2020 and the Olympic silver medal in February 2022. But he has experienced ski-racing’s blunt end too, with disappointing performances, canceled races, and the worst, crashes that have resulted in season-ending injuries.
From March 2014 to September 2015, Cochran-Siegle was sidelined with knee injuries. Then in 2021, he sat out half the season after injuring his neck in crash at the iconic Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbühel, Austria.
When faced with disappointment, he is trying to brace a Ted Lasso-ism — be a goldfish and move on. (“You know what the happiest animal on Earth is?” says Lasso in one episode. “It's a goldfish. It has a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish.”)
“I’m still trying to learn to do that,” he admitted.
Although recovering from injury can be tough, Cochran-Siegle has used the time to gain insight. He realized that “being out on the slope and doing what you love, that is a huge privilege.”
“And I also learned to be accountable for the work I was putting in and how to be a professional athlete,” he added. “Looking back, obviously an injury can be really negative, but in a way, they’re definitely positives that I still try to take away.”
Cochran-Siegle keeps his Olympic silver medal on a shelf in his closet at home in South Burlington, Vermont. He only brings it out if someone asks to see it. The medal has not changed his life. He is still “a small town boy from Vermont.”
What he does enjoy is how much the medal means to others. It’s an easy means of connecting to people, and he enjoys feeling others’ excitement when they realize that they’re talking to an Olympic medalist.
He learned the hard way that an Olympic medal does not make ski racing any easier. He set lofty goals after the 2022 Olympic Games. But then last season, while he finished in the top 10 in five world cup races, he did not reach the podium. And his best result at 2023 world championships was tenth in combined.
“This past season, in a way, [the medal] allowed me to build up my expectations too high, and that was counterproductive,” he realized.
He now has a better perspective.
“I appreciate that moment in my career and that performance,” he explained. “But I’m trying to become really focused on what day in and day out allows me to perform my best.
Focus for 2023/2024
Once known as a three-event skier — giant slalom, super-G, and downhill (four counting combined) — Cochran-Siegle is now focused on just the speed races, super-G and downhill.
“It’s about volume and training and putting energy where you feel like you can get the greatest payout in terms of skiing fast,” he said. “For me, downhill is that ultimate event where I think there’s a lot of characteristics that suit my style and ability.”
After experiencing disappointment last year, Cochran-Siegle has reevaluated what success means for him. And it’s not a goal with a number.
“Honestly, to me, a successful ski season would be at the end of the year, if I feel like I went into every start with a really clear focused mindset and felt like I found the flow I was looking for and the joy I was looking for,” he said.
It’s the flow and the joy that brings out his best skiing.
“It’s a result-based sport,” he acknowledged. “But I’m in the mindset right now that in order to get the results we would all desire, it’s really more about just the mental situation you put yourself in.”