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U.S. Skier Wins The Crowd, Even As He Loses The Race In Austria

"Missed it by that much" — that could have been the simple explanation after American skier Robby Kelley lost control just before the finish line in a slalom race in the Alps in Austria on Tuesday night. But after Kelley crashed, thousands of people cheered him on as he hiked back up the hill to finish his run.

"I just want to cross the finish line every time I go," Kelley said after the race, in comments relayed by the U.S. Ski Team. "I basically always hike. It's something I've always done. My parents told me to never give up, so I wanted to cross that finish line."

Kelley had the finish line in sight on his second run at the Schladming Night Race, but when his skis went sideways after a tight turn, the rest of him followed, sending him airborne before crashing down the mountain. But Kelley, who has skied as part of Vermont-based Redneck Racing and is known for his unique approach to skiing, wasn't done.

After his momentum carried Kelley next to the finishing gate, he picked himself up and began sidestepping back up the mountain. And with that, the crowd that had been largely silent upon seeing him crash began cheering for Kelley to reach the gate that he'd missed.

"I'm tired — very tired — but it was worth it!" Kelley said afterward. "It was a great feeling to cross the finish line here. This is the best race of the year. I would have liked to be 48 seconds faster than I was, so I'm a little disappointed."

Kelley, 26, was the top American finisher in the Alpine Skiing World Cup slalom event, with other U.S. skiers either not finishing or failing to reach the race's second run.

Today, the Vermont skier's refusal to quit is winning fans far beyond the Alps, after he posted a video of the unusual finish on his Facebook page.

"I am a high school ski coach and I preach to my kids that you NEVER quit," one fan wrote. "Thank you so much for showing such a great example at the highest level!!!! You ROCK...and I hope you crush the rest of the season!"

This isn't the first time Kelley has drawn attention for his unusual style; in 2014, he published a video of himself tackling a local run in Vermont — but in the summer, schussing over grass and ferns, in his ski suit.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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