The sport of skiing played a large role in her enrollment at Dartmouth, but Kristin Luckenbill wound up with an Olympic gold medal... from the Summer Games.
One can forgive Dartmouth's admissions office if they thought they were only getting a skier when they accepted Kristin Luckenbill, a graduate of the Stratton Mountain School, a renowned ski and snowboard academy. Instead they admitted, arguably, Dartmouth's greatest soccer player.
For Luckenbill the choice of Dartmouth was obvious. "I was recruited by a lot of large schools with good soccer programs," remembers Luckenbill, and "came very close to going to Penn State." But "soccer, ski racing, and academics were the most important things to me when I was choosing a college. Dartmouth was the only school that excelled in all of those categories."
Luckenbill, in turn, excelled both athletically and academically at Dartmouth. Calling herself a "consistent carnival skier," she nonetheless had several top 15 finishes at the Eastern College Carnivals, and was a silver medalist in slalom at the 1998 Eastern Junior Olympics.
As goalkeeper for the women's soccer team Luckenbill did more than excel. Named Ivy Rookie of the Year in 1997 and Player of the Year in 1998, she led her team that year to an Ivy League title and the NCAA tournament final eight. "When I chose to go to Dartmouth over some bigger soccer schools, I never thought a season like that would be possible," she said. Luckenbill led the Big Green to another championship in 2000, equaling the number won by Dartmouth in the 19 seasons before she arrived.
A geography major, Luckenbill had to be an "organized person and an efficient worker" to successfully balance athletics and academics. It was "was definitely tricky at times," she recalls, but "sometimes you actually are able to focus more on school when you are in season. You are too busy with classes and training to get distracted by other things."
A four-time first team All-Ivy and three-time All-American selection, Luckenbill drew the attention of the nascent Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA). Founded in the wake of the US Women's Team's World Cup triumph in 1999, the league held a draft in preparation for its inaugural 2001 season. The Carolina Courage selected Luckenbill. "Growing up and in college, I never thought it possible," she says. "I was with the ski team at Colorado training camp. When I found out [about being selected] I quit skiing."
WUSA was "totally unbelievable," says Luckenbill. The league had "the greatest players from all over the world." She thrived in the highly competitive environment. Quickly becoming starting goalkeeper, she was named Carolina Rookie of the Year in 2001. In 2002 everything came together for Luckenbill and her team. She was named a WUSA All-Star and Goalkeeper of the Year as she helped the Courage capture the Founders Cup, the WUSA championship.
But after playing one more season the WUSA disbanded. "It was really disappointing," says Luckenbill. "I thought my career was over, and moved to Colorado to coach skiing." Then in January 2004, she received a fateful phone call.
"It was an invitation to the [soccer national team] training camp," recalls Luckenbill. Soon she was admitted to ?residency" with the team, then was named to the 2004 Olympic team. "I knew I was close," she says, "but [previously] I never got fully invited onto the team."
"It was crazy," remembers Luckenbill. "We started playing 10 days before Opening Ceremonies, a game every three days. We traveled all over the country, from Crete to Thessaloniki." The team went undefeated in six games, besting Brazil 2-1 to win the gold medal. Only then did the team get to enjoy the Olympic Village. "It was fun to be in the village after the win," she says.
Since then Luckenbill has settled in Burlington, Vermont. She's playing semipro soccer in Vermont and more recently, Gothenburg, Sweden, and is assistant ski coach at Middlebury College. She has her eye on the 2008 Olympics. "I have an invitation for residency [to prepare for] the 2007 World Cup," she notes, "after that I'll take it one step at a time."
One thing is certain, though. "Whatever I do after I retire, it will involve sports."
— Stephen Eschenbach