Fayette native competes on ‘The Superstars’
The Fayette County native, world-renowned for her freestyle skiing, is one of eight athletes paired with a celebrity to determine who will come out on top. They compete weekly in a myriad of sporting events to challenge, and a team is eliminated each week.
Leskinen is paired with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, one of the pros who teach celebrities to dance on “Dancing with the Stars.”
The show airs on ABC at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, and runs for four more weeks.
Leskinen, 28, said she got a call from the show’s producers while she was hosting an invitational at Seven Springs Resort in Champion in March.
“I was absolutely thrilled at the chance,” she said. “I had injured my knee a bit, so I hung up my skis for two and a half weeks, and went to Arizona to train.”
There, Leskinen said she set out to prepare for whatever might be thrown at her. She went climbing and kayaking, among other things.
“I wanted to be on my best game,” she said.
So far she has been.
On Tuesday’s episode, she and Chmerkovskiy took second place in a relay race in the sand, finishing behind Buffalo Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens and his partner, model/actress Joanna Krupa.
“In the 50-yard dash, who’s going to beat TO?” she asked, laughing.
But Leskinen and Chmerkovskiy shone in the second event, where they took first place. It required both to long jump over a bar set up in the water. All of the contestants had to approximate how far they could jump.
She and Chmerkovskiy had the longest combined distance.
At the end of the competitions, scores are tallied, and the bottom teams proceed to an obstacle course. The team that finishes last is eliminated.
“I’ve been lucky that everything they threw at me, I’d done in some form before,” she said.
While she’s best known for slope and snow-centric events, Leskinen said her Fayette County upbringing afforded her an opportunity to be well-versed in a lot of other sports.
“This is truly a four-season place. I grew up doing a huge amount of sports. I played soccer in the fall, I skied in the winter, did track and field in the spring,” she said.
She also swam competitively.
The events in “The Superstars” were all difficult in their own way, she said, and they played different skills. Some events required good cardio training, others required skill, she said.
The run and ride event that required participants to divvy up a course where they ran and rode a bike uphill and downhill was among the most challenging.
Leskinen said she had “the entire wrong strategy on that one.” She rode the uphill bike portions, which left Chmerkovskiy to drift downhill on the bike.
“For him, it was just run up the hill, coast down for half the course, and then jog in. I came across the line dead tired,” she said.
Though the strategy was flawed in that event, Leskinen said she is fortunate to be paired with a strong athlete in Chmerkovskiy.
Also competing are WNBA player Lisa Leslie, woman’s soccer standout Brandi Chastain and skier Bode Miller. The celebrities include Baywatch alum David Charvet, actress Estella Warren and singer Julio Iglesias Jr.
Leskinen’s father, Fayette County Judge Steve P. Leskinen said he is proud of his daughter, as he is of all of his children.
“The common thread is that they have all worked very hard, with focus and determination toward their individual goals,” he said.
At age 16, he said his daughter knew what she wanted to do – become a professional skier – and he said she convinced him that she should defer college to pursue that goal. But there was a condition: that Kristi Leskinen be able to support herself through her chosen profession within two years of her graduation from Laurel Highlands Senior High School.
She met that goal.
“The Superstars show is just about a perfect fit for Kristi and her particular talents,” said Steve Leskinen, listing the myriad of sports at which his daughter has tried her hand over the years. “There aren’t too many events they could dream up that she hasn’t had some experience in.”
He said that no matter the sport, his daughter has been competitive throughout her life – but it doesn’t always have to be a sporting event to bring out Kristi Leskinen’s competitive side, he said, noting that she’s even competitive playing Scrabble with her family.
“I can remember when she was a whisper-thin 12-year-old competing in a mogul event at Seven Springs competing in the final against an 18-year-old reigning champion. Kristi was leading by 20 yards going into the final jump when she fell,” her father said. “The ski patrol and I ran up to her – where she was sobbing. They asked what hurt, and she didn’t say anything. Then I asked her if she was crying because she was hurt, or if she was crying because she lost.”
Her reply? “I was leading by a mile. I should have won,” he said.
At home for a few days, Kristi Leskinen said she able to watch Tuesday’s show with family.
While the outcome already has been determined – the show filmed in 21/2 weeks earlier this year – Leskinen isn’t talking about who came out on top.
She was, however, more than forthright about how great the experience was.
“It was amazing,” she said.
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