Making the U.S. Winter Olympic team was a dream come true for Scott Berry. The same could not be said for his Olympic ski jumping coaches.
“At that time, ski jumping was dominated by jumpers from Minnesota, and that is who the coaches wanted on the team,” Berry said. “When I made it, the coaches were not happy, but the administrators were because I kind of broke that regime.”
Berry said his relationship was contentious with the coaches throughout, but it didn’t diminish his experience.
Berry, who was 22 when he competed, was the first South Dakotan to compete in the Winter Olympics when he took part in the ski jumping events at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. He participated in the Large Hill and Normal Hill Ski Jumping events for the United States. He finished 47th in the Large Hill competition and 52nd in the Normal Hill competition in events dominated by Japanese jumpers.
Berry did not have an abundance of time to train for the Olympics, having graduated from Dartmouth University the year before.
“There were only four spots available, and the first two spots were strictly on points,” he said. “I knew I had to be in the top two to go.”
Before qualifying took place, coaches took who they considered the top 20 skiers to Europe to train.
Berry was not one of them.
“I went to Lake Placid for a month by myself and just went to training,” Berry said. “I went back to basics – my father was my high school coach, and I just worked on things that I worked on as a kid growing up – and I got a feel for it.”
The training worked, as Berry won one of the three qualifying runs and finished second in another to claim the second points-based Olympic spot.
“I won the competition in Levenworth, Wash., and finished second in Lake Placid,” Berry said. “I hit it at the right time and had a tremendous feel. I always had good style points, but I found a way to get distance and still have the style. I just peaked at the right time.”
The results in Japan were not exactly what Berry were after.
“I didn’t ski that well, but it was fun and a great event,” he said. “I really got overwhelmed with the Olympics. I skied against the same guys in Europe a couple weeks later and beat most of them. Just standing on the top of the hill at the Olympics is an experience that is completely different.”
Because ski jumping was on the docket early in the Olympics, Berry said he got a chance to go to many of the other competitions and took in a lot of skating and hockey.
Reaching the Olympics was an impressive feat for a boy from Deadwood who worked on his craft at Terry Peak.
“Growing up, there was a lot of jumpers in that area and my father would pack us up every weekend, and we would be going to competitions in Colorado,” Berry said. “Ski jumping was my winter sport, but I also did other sports like running cross country and football.”
There was little question that Berry had Olympic-level talent in ski jumping. He won the junior national championship in both his junior and senior years in high school. He said he first began dreaming about being an Olympian during the 1960 Olympics at the age of 10, around the same time he first started getting invited to national ski jumping camps.
Berry currently lives in Colorado and is listed as part of Steamboat Springs' "Ski Town USA" tradition of Olympians. After the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, Berry was pictured and listed as one of 50 Olympians who lived and trained at Steamboat’s Ski Town USA.
Berry’s jumping career did not last long after the Olympics.
“I broke my ankle pretty bad on a 160-meter hill in (what was then) Yugoslavia about six weeks after the Olympics,” he said. “Three surgeries and 18 months later, I finally walked again.
“It wasn’t that difficult (not to ski jump again because) in those days you didn’t make any money, and I was in debt. It was time to get on with life and figure out what to do.”
When Berry returned to South Dakota from Japan, the impact he'd made on his home state became clear.
“Everyone was pretty excited for me, and I was treated pretty well with a lot of local support from people,” he said.