Lack of funding a challenge for Nordic Adia Waldburger of the Record staff
This week, athletes competing in the U.S. Cross-Country Championships at Soldier Hollow will receive a rare dose of popularity. Make that a needed dose. With the U.S. Ski Team making necessary budget cuts, the Nordic program was only able to retain their top athletes, and released their two female members and cut the development program.
The budget has actually gone up every year, but the Nordic team is still strapped. This year, only those who finished in the top 15 in World Cup competitions were invited to stay on the team. This means that female members Wendy Wagner of Park City, a 2002 Olympian, and Rebecca Dussault of Gunnison, Colo. were cut from the team, and must now generate their own funding to train and attend competitions in their quest to make it to the Olympic Games in Turin.
"We’re focusing on the top guys a lot more," said Nordic program director Luke Bodensteiner. "We’re pretty hopeful for a budget growth."
One way that Bodensteiner sees remedying the program is beating some of the top-performing countries, such as Norway and Germany. Alpine and cross-country offer the U.S. the most opportunities to collect medals, and so the more they win, the more successful the entire U.S. Ski Team becomes. Right now, the short-term strategy is working for the Nordic program, but without a development program they could encounter a drought of talent in the future.
"These guys will be ready for two more Olympics, but we’re setting up for what happened 30 years ago. We’re doing well now, but doing nothing for the future. Once these guys retire, we’ll be starting over," Bodensteiner said. The decision to cut the women on the team is also concerning, but it was not motivated by any prejudice within the U.S. program. Bodensteiner said they simply went for their best skiers at the time and once they hit their limit, they had to let the rest of the team go, and unfortunately Wagner and Dussault were two of the casualties. The team still continues to support the women as much as they can. Assistant coach Peter Vordenberg works with Wagner and some of the support staff still offer her their help.
"It’s more challenging for them," Bodensteiner said. Currently though, things are the upswing for the U.S. team Their results continue to improve, and Bodensteiner said that the Nordic program is far ahead of where the U.S. Ski Team thought they would be four years ago.
"It will take awhile for management to see the success," Bodensteiner said.
Still, even with the cuts, the Nordic program still feels like they are on equal footing with the other programs. Bodensteiner said that he understands that alpine is a far more expensive sport and needs more of the organization’s monies.
"Bill Marolt has recognized that. "It’s not a case of second class citizens," Bodensteiner said. "These guys came in quickly and posted results in the planning and programming has to catch up to that."
Parkite Carl Swenson, who has 11 U.S. titles and Kris Freeman, of Andover, N.H., who has the top American results, are expected to lead the U.S. men. Elite athletes without a program
For Wagner and Dussault, who have both competed in both national and world championships, the year has been an uphill battle of raising funds to travel and train. If they make this year’s Olympic team, the United States Olympic Committee will cover their expenses to attend the Games, but until then, all fundraising is up to them. The women must rely on the kindness of outside sources, mostly those willing to do the legwork. With their rigorous winter schedules, there is little time left to go out knocking on doors.
"It’s hard to race well and everyone’s in that situation," Wagner said.
Wagner’s biggest supporter has come right from her own backyard. The Utah Nordic Alliance (TUNA), White Pine touring and other Parkites have stepped up to raise money for Wagner.
"I’ve been really lucky, because the Utah ski community has gotten behind me," Wagner said. "Now I’m able to fund everything I need to do. "
Wagner said she is also indebted to help of Vordenberg and the U.S. Ski Team support staff. "Everyone in our little niche is very supportive, " Wagner said, referring to American Nordic staff and male U.S. Nordic skiers. She says that her former coaches are also working on a better plan for next year.
"They are figuring out what they need to be champions," Wagner said. "Their hands are tied without funding. Next year it’s all or nothing. They are in the same boat as I am." She said that many people in the Nordic community were surprised at the U.S. Ski Team’s actions, but she understands their decisions and knows that there was no ill will in their decision.
"Everyone is so appalled that they [the U.S. Ski Team] didn’t name any women, but the coaches wanted to, but didn’t have the money," Wagner said.
Wagner says that the number of women on the U.S. Team has dwindled in the last 20 years to one or two, and she is even more concerned now that there is no development team. Bodensteiner says that there are many young women coming up the pipeline and he hopes to eventually have a development program to support them. But for now, Wagner can’t worry about the future of her sport. She is focused on performing her best this week and earning a spot on the American team.
"All I want to do is race well at the Olympics," Wagner said. "I don’t have enough energy to start any revolutions."
Wagner said that Olympic years are very overwhelming and the communities efforts have really allowed her to be her best.
"If it wasn’t for people in the community it has added up to let me do what I wanted to do," Wagner said. "It’s made me really proud that people stepped up with that support."
Wagner has joined with other athletes to create a fundraising website called http://www.teamtoday.org to raise money for skiers and other athletes to raise money to travel to competitions. A portion of the money from TUNA’s Wasatch Citizen’s Series cross-country races will also continue to go to Wagner’s efforts. The schedule for the championships is as follows: Tuesday (9:30 a.m. start) Men’s 30K, Women’s 15K Freestyle (8:30 a.m. disabled start) Thursday (9:30 a.m.) – Freestyle sprints Saturday (9:30 a.m.) Men’s 15K, Women’s 10K Classic (8:30 a.m. disabled start) Sunday (9:30 a.m.) Men’s 10K, Women’s 5K Classic (2:45 p.m. disabled start) Tuesday (10 a.m.) – Pursuits (Men’s 15K+15K, Women’s According to the U.S. Ski Team, the U.S. Cross-Country Olympic Team will be made up of 16 athletes, and is expected to be named on Jan. 17. Selection will be based on a combination of World Cup, SuperTour and U.S. Championships results.
The U.S. Cross-Country Championships will run through Jan.10 at Soldier Hollow. Fore more information, log onto http://www.soldierhollow.com .
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