In the 1956 National Ski Jumping championships at Westby, Keith Zuehlke sliced through the icy, sub-zero air to victory.
That put the Eau Claire athlete’s name in the United States ski jumping record book forever.
But there was a lot more to come. Besides competing, he went on in roles of officiating and coaching youngsters. And that continues today.
For his work as an official and his contributions above and beyond the call of duty to the sport for three quarters of a century, he has been honored by the United States Ski Association for the 2019 Mittelstadt Ski Jumping Officials Award, presented annually for such outstanding service.
This lifetime achievement award is presented annually in honor of the late Fritz Mittelstadt, an Eau Claire native who served as head of the U.S. officials for many years and was selected as Chief of Officials at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Games.
Zuehlke, an Eau Claire High School graduate, grew up on the city’s west side and joined the Flying Eagles at a young age, going on to win honors on a national scale.
He became one of the nation’s top jumpers. He won the club’s Memorial Trophy in 1952 and 1956, had a great year in 1958 winning several midwest tournaments and was named to the 1960 Olympic training squad before he was slowed by injuries.
He went on to jump in Masters Class through the 1960s and was one of the first to jump on Olympic-sized Silver Mine Hill before he retired as a jumper.
Zuehlke became a judge and technical delegate after he stopped competing, serving nearly 40 years including assignments overseas in France and Japan. He also served as Central Division chairman and was chief organizer for the 1980 Silver Mine National championship two weeks before the Lake Placid Olympic Games.
Zuehlke is a father of five including sons Brad, a decorated jumper for the U.S. Military ski team, and Reed, who followed in his father’s footsteps by winning a national championship in 1982 and going on to ski in two Olympic Games.
Zuehlke, 87, and his wife Shirley have spent the last 18 years in the ski hotbed Steamboat Springs, Colo., where he can still be seen working with the youngsters.