Coaching or Kibitzing on the Olympics, Bob Beattie Is America's Indomitable Snowman
02/18/1980 at 01:00 AM EST
When ABC's 51-hour avalanche of Winter Olympics coverage begins to blanket the land this week, the most enthusiastic verbal schussing will come from ski commentator Bob Beattie. At 47, Beattie (pronounced Bee-atty) remains a cheerleader, even though the men's U.S. alpine squad has won just two medals—neither gold—in the 12 Winter Games. Those awards, of course, came in 1964 when the team coach happened to be Bob Beattie. So even if his hyperbole is excessive and you can't understand everything he says, as one ABC producer admits, "He sure makes things exciting."
In his coaching years Beattie was known for his Vince Lombardi approach—he disciplined one of his top athletes by making him somersault the length of a football field. But that boot-camp grind hardly applies anymore. He turned to the sybaritic life in the snows of Aspen. His pursuit of pleasure is only slightly diminished since the death of close friend Spider Sabich, the skier shot and killed by actress Claudine Longet in a 1976 accident. The two men used to drink, womanize and make money together on the ski tour. Beattie recalls they also almost died together. One afternoon, while flying in Sabich's twin-engine plane, the door on the passenger side blew open at 15,000 feet. The aircraft quickly lost altitude, but Sabich was able to land it safely. Even now Beattie becomes emotional when he speaks of his buddy: "We used to think of what good old boys we were going to be and what we were going to do when we were 80."
Work and play both seem to drive Beattie. "If he's not at a party, he's throwing one," says former publicist Gregory Lewis. "He's always got a new girlfriend, and they are young and attractive. But Bob's half a New Hampshire workaholic." He's been to Europe five times this season to shoot ABC features, and he's the founder and executive director of the world pro skiing circuit. From just three meets in 1969, its first year, the tour has expanded to five countries and 14 events. Beattie claims the circuit (whose participants used to be fined for missing après-ski parties) "is a labor of love."
In the winter Beattie spends half his time traveling. But Aspen can be just as frenzied. "When Bob is home, we go out four or five nights a week," says Cheryl Britton, 27, the manager of a local secondhand clothing store, who has lived with the twice-divorced Beattie for the past nine months. "Bob's total energy attracted me," she adds. "He is the most vital and fun man I've ever known. He loves to ski, work and hang around with the guys."
Beattie was raised in Manchester, N.H., where his father was a roofing company sales manager. "He wanted me to be a lawyer and my brother to be a doctor," Bob recalls. "It was like Dad said 'Black' and I'd say 'White.' " At Middlebury he played football, tennis and skied—so-so downhill but very well cross-country. As coach, after his 1955 graduation, he guided Middlebury's team to third place in the nationals. He moved on to the University of Colorado and in 1961 to the Olympic job. "Bob thought the more ski runs you did the better you got," says Billy Kidd, whose 1964 silver medal under Beattie remains America's best in men's Olympic downhill skiing. "His ideas didn't always coincide with mine." But Kidd adds that Beattie's toughness provided the American team's missing ingredient: "motivation. Bob could really get you charged up." However, his methods won brickbats rather than medals in 1968, and a year later Beattie quit. He now hints the criticism may have been justified: "I realized I had to get out of coaching before I became a real jerk."
In Aspen Beattie says he found "rebirth. Everybody has a chance to grow and I did it there." Bob has two children—Suzy, 22, and Bob, 20—by his first wife. A second marriage, to 1968 Olympic skier Kiki Cutter, ended in 1973. Even so, Beattie retains an athlete's optimism. "I don't hang around sulkers," he says. "I'm a great believer that yesterday is the best day of your life, today is better—and tomorrow will be even better than that."