Q+A with Barbara Ann Cochran: 1972 Olympic gold medalist talks Mikaela Shiffrin, her role in history and the rise of U.S. women skiers

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Mikaela Shiffrin skied into the history books Tuesday with her record-breaking 83rd World Cup victory, capturing the win in a giant slalom race in Kronplatz, Italy. She followed up Wednesday with win No. 84, taking the title in her second straight GS race. With five more World Cup stops and 13 races left on the calendar, Shiffrin is now tracking to break the all-time win record of 86, set by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark in 1989.

Winning more than 80 World Cup races is a nearly unattainable feat, reached by just three Alpine racers including Lindsey Vonn, who previously held the women’s record with 82. The numbers drop dramatically after Vonn, with just two ski racers – Austrians Marcel Hirscher (67) and Annemarie Moser-Proll (62) – winning more than 55 World Cup events.

U.S. Hall of Fame ski racer Barbara Ann Cochran, a three-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist in slalom at the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, knows just what an accomplishment Shiffrin has achieved this season, and she has a vested interest in watching this next generation of U.S. women skiers achieve new benchmarks. In December, Cochran joined a Facetime call with Shiffrin and Paula Moltzan after their historic one-two finish in a slalom at Semmering, Austria, where she shared a full-circle moment with the duo: It had been 51 years since two American women stood atop a World Cup slalom podium, and Cochran and her sister Marilyn were the last to do so in February 1971.

If the name Cochran sounds familiar, it’s because it is: Barbara Ann – now 72 — is the second of four Cochran siblings, affectionately referred to as “The Skiing Cochrans,” who hail from New Hampshire and run a family-owned ski area in Vermont named Cochran’s. Her father, Gordon “Mickey” Cochran, was a longtime coach, while Marilyn Cochran was a six-time World Cup winner and three-time national champion. Her brother, Bob Cochran, was also a World Cup winner and nine-time national champion, and youngest sister Lindy Cochran won two national titles. The family’s next generation includes son Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who won Olympic silver in Super-G last February in Beijing, and nephew and two-time U.S. Olympian Jimmy Cochran.

Cochran, who lives in Starksboro, Vt., where she runs B.A. Cochran Coaching, recently sat down with On Her Turf to talk history, share perspective on Shiffrin’s blistering season and her message to the rising women of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team.

This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

OHT: We were really inspired after seeing that you Facetimed with Mikaela and Paula after their one-two finish in Austria. Can you tell us about that moment and why that call was significant?

Barbara Ann Cochran: I’m so proud of them. And, and just, you know, like, it was just really, really exciting to see that happen. … It was really noisy in the lodge, so I had a hard time hearing them but basically, I was just saying, “Congratulations. This is just incredible. It’s awesome and so proud of you.” That was the essence of the message that I gave them.

OHT: We heard it was a bit of surprise news to you that this was the first one-two World Cup slalom finish for the Americans since you and your sister Marilyn accomplished the feat in 1971. Can you tell me about that one-two fish?

Cochran: That was a special time for us, that we had finished one-two. And that was the only time that we ever did that. I do remember that we tied one time in giant slalom, but it was for 16th and neither one of us was very happy about that. … But I always thought that would be so cool to have results like that, so for the U.S. team to be doing it this year is just really special.

OHT: I looked at the New York Times article from that finish in 1971, and the lead of the piece says, “Marilyn Cochran and her sister Barbara, crediting their mother’s cooking, finished 1, 2 today in the women’s special slalom for the first American victory in World Cup competition this season.” And I was just so curious if you remember what they were referring to, because the article didn’t clarify. What about your mother’s cooking had to do with the finish in the race?

Cochran: I do believe that that had been a leading question, and I think it came more from the report that we had been home right before going to Mount St. Anne (Quebec). So I don’t know if we said something about … being home, but I do kind of remember that when that article came out, now that you mention it, that I have a feeling that there was a little embellishment on the reporter’s part.

OHT: How you would characterize American ski racing in that 1971 season and how would you compare it to today?

Cochran: The ski racing back in 1971 was very different than it is today. The basics are the same, but there’s a lot of difference in equipment, there’s a lot of difference in even the technique. They have breakaway poles now, so essentially, your upper body goes right through the pole, and we didn’t have breakaway poles. We had poles that we had to ski around.

The other thing that happened, once the shape skis were being used — I think shaped skis are much easier to actually carve a turn, and that’s key in technique to be able to do that. I feel like I carved, but I had to really work to get to my skis to carve. We had straight skis. … Also, I think now, there’s a lot more depth to the field worldwide than there was in 1971.

OHT: Can you talk about the unpredictability of ski racing, and how these athletes can be so ready to go, but there are just so many factors that go into a ski race.

Cochran: That’s one thing that I told myself before I went to the Olympics, when reporters would ask me, “Well, how do you think the U.S. Ski Team is going to do?” or “How do you think you’re going to do?” And what I would say is that I don’t know if I’m going to win, but what I do know is I’m capable of winning. And I think just by repeating that over and over again, it really actually put me in a really good mental state to go to those Olympics.

OHT: What really stands out to you and feels special about watching the U.S. women compete this season?

Cochran: It’s been fun watching [Paula] because she’s just gotten stronger and stronger, and Mikaela, of course, has been strong from the get-go. But with Paula and Mikaela, to me the underwriting factor is that they truly believe that they’re capable of doing it. …

What’s really neat about about this time for the American women is that there’s Paula and Mikaela, but then there are others that are up-and-coming that are exciting. And that’s one thing that just fills my heart, that the U.S. women’s team is really coming together as a team. I think over the years with U.S. skiing, we’ve had these standouts – we’ve had Bodie [Miller] and Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn and then Mikaela, but they were like the “stand-alones.” And now I think it’s a much more rewarding experience when you’re part of a team and any one of you can get the results that you really want to get.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Paula Moltzan talks first World Cup podium, being Mikaela Shiffrin’s teammate and unconventional path to the U.S. Ski Team

OHT: Something that we have also talked about this season is how notable it is to see Mikaela skiing so well after a challenging experience at the Olympics in Beijing. Can you talk a little bit about that mental toughness and resilience that she’s displayed?

Cochran: It seems as if probably this year, she will actually break the all-time record. You know, just that consistency – it’s just incredible. It’s mind-blowing. There are so many factors that just play into getting that consistency to get [84] wins in her career. …

I haven’t talked to Mikaela to really find out what went on at the Olympics, but it seems as if she must have been feeling a lot of pressure. And that’s coming from the way she’s thinking. So if you change that and if you take away or if you give yourself the freedom just to go out and enjoy it and do your job, execute the skills that you’ve already developed, then you’ll get results that you can be happy with.

OHT: Looking to the broader impact that the Cochran family has had on the alpine community, how does that feel to be a leader in that world and why is that important to you?

Cochran: It’s kind of ironic because we never felt like we were leaders. From the time I was 9 years old when we moved to Richmond [Vermont] and dad had this dream of putting up a rope tow in the backyard because as an athlete himself, he felt that it was really important that we just didn’t just train on weekends. He felt like it was important to be able to train during the week as well. I think back on it now, it’s hitting me more than it did as I was going through this, that we are a part of skiing history.

With this next generation, and the interest that our kids are sharing with their kids – it’s really becoming generational now. And to see that, I feel like the torch has been passed. I mean, we’re still involved in everything, but I feel like that the heavy burden of managing the skiing aspect has been passed on to the next generation, which is awesome.

OHT: Looking to this next generation of up-and-comers, what sort of message do you have to these rising women of the U.S. Alpine team?

Cochran: The message I have is the message that I think my dad had for us: Enjoy what you’re doing. That’s number one – to really focus on the fun that you’re having. But also, don’t try and be perfect but strive for perfection, because that’s when you’re going to gain excellence. But perfection is not attainable. Don’t worry about being perfect. You just strive for perfection. Do the best that you can and know that hard work and paying attention to details will get you the results that you want. Focus on the skills and let the results take care of themselves.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Top women’s sports storylines to follow in 2023

Diana Flores looks to break down gender barriers with turn as AFC offensive coordinator in 2023 Pro Bowl

Courtesy Diana Flores
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Diana Flores admits she was surprised when she became a viral sensation last spring, courtesy of a 15-second slow-motion clip showcasing her evasive maneuvers and fancy footwork while leaving at least three defenders in the dirt during Mexico’s 2022 national collegiate flag football championship.

“I never expected someone to record that moment,” said Mexico City native Flores, who led her team – the Monterrey Tech Borregos – to their third consecutive national title as a senior last May. “I was just having fun. I was just playing the game I love and then days later to see that it was viral on the internet — it was crazy. But at the same time, it was exciting because I remember when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of flag football role models to follow. So now, for me to be a role model for many boys and girls that play my sport is something that really makes me happy and proud and also motivates me to keep getting better.”

Flores, who led the Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team to a gold medal at the 2022 World Games, will have the chance to promote her sport on one of the world’s biggest stages this weekend when she serves as the AFC offensive coordinator for the NFL’s 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Flores will be joined by Peyton Manning as the AFC head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator. On the NFC side, U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback Vanita Krouch will serve as offensive coordinator, with Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as defensive coordinator.

“I think that this has been one of the best things in my life,” she recently told On Her Turf about her Pro Bowl appointment. “It is like a dream. I mean, I grew up watching football, watching the NFL, playing flag football. And now to be able to be part of all of this — it is bigger than my biggest dreams.”

Flores’ football dreams began as when she was just 8 years old. Her father — who played quarterback for the perennial football powerhouse Monterrey Tech program — took her to a practice and she fell in love with the sport. But as the time there were no teams for girls her age, so she played with girls twice her age and used it to her advantage, focusing on her own abilities and sharpening her skills. By age 14 she was playing NFL Flag in Mexico, where she was the only girl in the league, and at 15 she started playing NFL Flag in the U.S, where she finally played on an all-girls team.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

“I remember when I started playing, I used to receive a lot of like comments, directly and indirectly from other people, like, ‘Why do you play that sport? That’s not a girls’ sport, that sport is for boys, you’re get injured, you’re going to get hurt, don’t play with boys, that’s too rude.’ And the list keeps going. But my mom and dad were so supportive. They always encouraged me not to listen to anybody, to just follow my passion.

“And I think thanks to them, I’ve always had this mentality that gender doesn’t matter. It just matters how passionate you are about your dreams, how hard you work for what you want to achieve. And that you will always demonstrate what you’re made for, depending on the hard work you do. So, I’ve lived through that [negativity], I have experienced that. And I think that it has been one of my biggest blessings to be able to experience — for myself — what sport can do and how gender barriers get broken when you follow your dreams and you connect with other people through your passion.”

At just 16 years old, Flores made Mexico’s national team, playing in the first of four Flag Football World Championships – so far. Last summer at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, the 24-year-old Flores led Mexico to a 6-0 record, which included two wins over the U.S. women, who took silver. In the gold medal game against the United States, she completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 210 yards and four touchdowns in Mexico’s 39-6 victory. She finished the tournament with 23 touchdown passes, the third-most among women’s teams, and she was the only starting quarterback to beat USA’s star QB, Krouch, who is 19-1 in international tournament play.

All that international experience so early in her career has given Flores a wise-beyond-her-years approach to playing flag football, a sport where she was frequently the only female player on the field and often the only Latin American as well.

“When I first came to the U.S., it was a little shocking to notice that I was probably the only Latin American girl playing,” she recalls. “But I think that it was easy for me because I got all the support from my coaches and my teammates. And since a young age, I think that I started to realize that sometimes what you do is for something bigger than yourself. That’s why you have to always give your best, in any situation. Even at that young age, I understood that I was representing more than myself on the field, I was representing Latin American people, Latin American girls in a sport that [many people thought] was meant to be for boys.”

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

One door Flores hopes to help open is the one leading to the Olympics. Flag football is on the short list being considered for inclusion in Los Angeles in 2028 Los Angeles. As an ambassador for flag football for the NFL and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), she’s participated in talks with the International Olympic Committee, and just last month she was joined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in Mexico City where they joined forced to promote women’s empowerment and inclusion.

“I think for me, that experience is one of my top three,” she said of spending time with Biden. “I call them gifts from life, something that you didn’t expect it to happen, and somehow, one day, you’re right there in front of the First Lady. I admire her for what she does for boys and girls, for empowering woman and giving opportunities for everybody to achieve their dreams. So it was truly an honor to meet her, and also to be able to keep impacting my sport, not only on the field, but [off] the field, and have the opportunity keep inspiring others and keep impacting the world.”

As for what she hopes fans at the Pro Bowl and viewers at home take away from Sunday’s flag football showcase, Flores hopes they’ll see the characteristics that made her fall in love with flag in the first place: creativity, speed, agility, teamwork, passion and a lot of heart.

“I hope to show to all little girls and women that dreams come true, that nothing is impossible, to keep inspiring and opening opportunities and doors for women in sports, especially in the world of the NFL and football and flag football,” she says. “We’re going to make history, and I am so proud and happy for that. I’m really hoping that it is just the first step, not only for me, but for all the women that are coming after me.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Paula Moltzan talks first World Cup podium, being Mikaela Shiffrin’s teammate and unconventional path to the U.S. Ski Team

Flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

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When Vanita Krouch got the news that she was named NFC offensive coordinator for the 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback admits her jaw nearly hit the ground.

And then she realized something even more profound.

“For the longest time, thinking about the moment, everything, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream come true. Is this really happening?’” said the 42-year-old Krouch, known as the “Tom Brady of flag football” with a 19-1 record as USA’s starting quarterback in international tournaments since 2018.

“But then I started thinking to myself: You know what? None of us grew up thinking of this as a dream to obtain. So really, it’s kind of reversed where I’m living a dream. I get to be a pioneer in this growth of flag football for all and inclusion for all, youth and adults, [women and men]. It’s such an inclusive sport, and I get to be a part of this growth and still actively play. It’s exciting. I’m literally living the dream. I’m very much like, ‘Guys, don’t pinch me. Let me keep sleeping.’”

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Krouch will be joined by Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as NFC defensive coordinator. On the AFC side, Mexico Women’s National Flag Football quarterback Diana Flores will serve as offensive coordinator, with Peyton Manning as head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator.

But Krouch’s journey to the Pro Bowl stage began under the unlikeliest of circumstances and was inspired by her own family odyssey, which began in Cambodia during the horrific regime of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Krouch’s mother, Phonnary Krouch, fled the country with three young sons in tow, running by night and hiding by day to escape, finding safety initially at a refugee camp in the Philippines. That’s where she welcomed Vanita, in September 1980, and two months later the family made its way to the United States. Krouch’s father exited the picture upon their arrival in America, leaving Phonnary to raise four children alone.

“In a nutshell, my mom is an amazing woman,” said Krouch, who first found sports via an elementary school flyer advertising youth soccer in Carrollton, Texas. “On the journey, she had a lot of trials, tribulations, … and after our dad left us, it was just mom and four kids in this little one-bedroom apartment. So, it was a challenge. I’m just so amazed by her strength and will to never give up.”

She also credits her mom for standing up to then-stereotypical notions that Asian girls should not play sports.

“I’m just thankful, honestly, that my mom allowed me to break the Asian culture barriers of a woman playing sports because that’s not easy,” she said. “She faced a lot of backlash from the community. But she said, ‘Hey, my child’s making good grades. She’s healthy, she’s good. She’s staying off the streets. I don’t see a problem.’ And she just let me do it. I was just lucky to have a mom that let me spread my wings.”

Krouch also had a few mentors along the way. Her elementary school PE teacher, Toni Neibes, stepped in to pay for those initial soccer fees and continued her support as Krouch transitioned to basketball in the fourth grade. She fell in love with the sport and excelled at it as well, eventually earning a full scholarship to play college basketball at Southern Methodist University. She wears the No. 4 to this day in honor of Niebes, who wore the same number as a young athlete. She also credits her fourth-grade teacher, Judy Ward, as having a lasting impact after the teacher made a habit out of showing up for her youth basketball games.

She pays tribute to them both through her clothing line, 4Ward Apparel, which features ever-changing collections emblazoned with relevant slogans encouraging female empowerment, inclusion and her personal mantra of “paying it forward” – something she does with the line itself. Each month, Krouch donates a portion of the sales to individuals, families or organizations in need.

After graduating SMU in 2003, Krouch continued to play basketball in semi-pro and adult leagues, but she was still searching for something to satisfy her competitive drive. She and a former college teammate stumbled on flag football during a Google search for local Dallas-area activities, and the rest – as they say – is history.

“It was like I drank the Kool Aid and I never looked back,” she says of her start in flag in 2006. “It’s just like every game, every play is a new challenge, and it’s addictive for a competitor, so I just fell in love with flag. I actually think I’m way better at flag than I was at basketball.”

She moved into the quarterback position through some sly maneuvering by current USA Women’s Flag Football head coach Chris Lankford. They were playing together in a local tournament when he “tricked” her into the QB position, despite Krouch knowing “zero football language.”

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“One day I showed up for a tournament and I asked, ‘All right, guys, who’s our quarterback?’ And he says, ‘We’re looking at her,’” she remembers. They kept the plays simple, and her team made it to the playoffs that season. Krouch has been a QB ever since.

Krouch joined the national team in 2016 and was inducted into the National Flag and Touch Football Hall Fame that same year. Last year at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, a 41-year-old Krouch set a new mark as the oldest Flag football player, man or woman, in the games, and she ranked second among women with 25 touchdown passes at the tournament where USA won silver.

She aims to bring that expertise to the field at the Pro Bowl games, where she’s looking forward to seeing NFL players take on the flag football style type of plays. “Flag is a very finesse, quick game, a lot of footwork, and these guys can’t grab or hold, no downfield contact or downfield block or anything off the line,” she explains. “So it’s going to be exciting just to see skill for skill, footwork for footwork, defense to offense, and to see flag football language with those type of elite athletes.”

As for the biggest challenge, Krouch believes it will be crafting a concise playbook and language that puts everyone on the same page. “A challenge for me is getting a coach’s mindset,” she adds, “I have to actually come up with plays ahead of time and I don’t usually have premeditated plays in my head. I just read it so for me to tell Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith [what to do], it will be different, you know?”

But beyond the Pro Bowl, Krouch is excited that flag is being considered for inclusion as an exhibition sport in the 2028 Summer Olympics. While she’s keeping a hopeful eye on that development, she’s also working to shape the next generation of potential athletes as a physical education teacher at La Villita Elementary in Irving, Texas.

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

“It’s an honor to be a role model – for other youth flag football players, for my students, both boys and girls,” says Krouch. “Then at my campus and in my community, it’s amazing to be able to break the barrier of like, ‘Asian women can’t do this.’ And then to be at my age, still doing this, I feel very lucky and blessed. …I think I still got some years in me.”

As for what she hopes viewers and fans walk away with after watching the Pro Bowl flag games this weekend, Krouch feels confident folks will walk away enlightened by the show.

“I just hope that they have fun with it,” says Krouch. “And for those who don’t know flag to be like, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing. Maybe that’s something I really can get my son or daughter into at a young age.’ So I just hope that they see that the sport is real – it’s not just something we play at recess. It’s a real thing now. I think they’ll see that the world loves it, the world can play it and is playing it.”

Be sure to check back with On Her Turf later this week when we catch up with AFC coordinator and Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team quarterback Diana Flores.  

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Paula Moltzan talks first World Cup podium, being Mikaela Shiffrin’s teammate and unconventional path to the U.S. Ski Team