‘Best in the World’ takes teamwork
November 25, 2014
Nearly 18 years ago I sat in a conference room in Park City along with fellow U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association managers. Our new leader, Bill Marolt, had gathered us with an outside mediator to talk about the future of our organization. No one had any pre-conceived ideas coming into that room. No one had any thought about Best in the World or that that would become our vision. For those two days we put something like 75 big Post-it sheets up on the wall. Together, as a team, we put in place what would be the roadmap for the next few decades of skiing and snowboarding in America.
Bill Marolt retired this past spring after sitting in a leadership role for 70 of America’s 95 Olympic ski and snowboarding medals since 1924. Think about that! What an amazing statistic.
Last week Marolt was honored, once again, this time at the Denver Snow Ball with nearly 600 supporters there to recognize him alongside nearly two-dozen national team athletes.
As he talked to the crowd, he spoke of leadership, team and the importance of our service to athletes. For 18 years, everyone who worked with Bill had come to learn his values and his drive towards a goal.
There have been plenty of honors for Marolt. But this one was very special. It was in his home.
"I grew up in Aspen in Colorado. It’s where my roots are," he said. "I learned about leadership and learned about our business when I first got involved with the sport from my coach Gale Spence."
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In that brainstorming workshop two decades ago we came together as a team with a Best in the World vision. And we talked a lot about team.
Team is an unusual word in an individual sport. Nearly every time our athletes compete, they get into a starting gate alone. But we are a team — as athletes, as a staff and as a sport uniquely supported by the American public.
"You heard a lot of numbers and statistics tonight," said Marolt. "Those results don’t happen without the support of everybody in this room. It is a team. It is a family. That’s what makes it all go around. And you are a part of that team."
When you visit the USSA Center of Excellence in Park City, you see athletes from different sports training side by side. It’s especially evident on the trampolines where aerialists, moguls skiers, halfpipe and slope athletes hang out and train together. Coaches cross-pollinate ideas. Athletes get to know each other. In a way, it’s one of our secret weapons.
When you work as a team, it’s remarkable what you can accomplish. There wasn’t a soul on our team going to Vancouver who was counting medals in advance. We didn’t go there with thoughts of Best in the World on our mind. We simply went there as a team, with each of us doing our job.
Soon we saw what the concept of team meant. We saw and felt the motivation that comes from watching a teammate succeed. If you were a snowboarder ensconced at your team house in West Vancouver, you were pumped when you watched Hannah Kearney and Shannon Bahrke medal in moguls on opening night. You thought, ‘hey, we can do that too.’ Just 18 days later we celebrated 17 athletes winning 21 medals.
We were Best in the World.
In Vancouver and in Sochi, there was never one pivotal moment. There was no one light-switch time when the reality sunk in. It was just a team pulling together with everyone doing his or her job. We had a plan. We followed that plan. And we won! But we didn’t do it alone.
"The most important people in this room are you," said Marolt in closing, pointing to the crowd. "You are the people who believe in our vision and believe in the youth of America. Our future is safe because we have great athletes. But also because we have great people like you who support them."
It’s tough to win alone. It takes team to build a champion.
Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.