There was a time not all that long ago where U.S. Ski Team success was measured by cracking into top-30 for World Cup points. There's a different standard today for the team that saw 17 athletes win 21 medals at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Fifteen years after the Park City based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association raised eyebrows with its Best in the World vision, that vision is becoming clear.
That clarity in vision is evident in the sweat and pain endured every day by athletes training at the USSA Center of Excellence. Months before skis and boards hit the snow, athletes are pumping iron and pounding pedals to gain every ounce of competitive advantage. Those hours in the gym are gamechangers.
Just a few years ago this holiday break scorecard would have been farfetched. But as the competitive ski and snowboarding season takes a short breather, let's take a look at the leaderboard. A record eight different alpine athletes have been on the podium this year with four of them taking wins. The women's downhill team has completely dominated all nations in speed events. Park City's own Ted Ligety is running away with the Audi FIS World Cup GS title, while a 17-year-old teen from Vail, MikaelaShiffrin, wore the red slalom leader's bib into last weekend's World Cup outside Vienna and joined Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso in the top 10 overall standings. Three weeks ago Park City's own Steven Nyman won again in the Val Gardena downhill.
Many locals remember Heather McPhie's brilliant win under the lights at Deer Valley in 2010 to send her on to Vancouver. McPhie, a Montanan who now calls Park City home, is two-for-two and leading the FIS Freestyle World Cup as McPhie and fellow Montanan turned Parkite Bryon Wilson swept wins before Christmas. And in cross country skiing, seven Americans started Saturday in the grueling seven-stage Tour de Ski, including World Cup sprint leader Kikkan Randall.
With only a third of the season in the record books, a remarkable 32 different U.S. athletes have been on World Cup or comparable event podiums. A whopping 20 of those athletes have recorded wins!
To be sure, it's still 13 months until Sochi. Along the way there will be new names and new leaders, victories and defeats. But one thing's for sure. The bar of excellence has been raised, a new standard has been established. Best in the World is now a reality.
On behalf of USSA's athletes scattered around the globe, thanks and Happy Holidays!