Winter Olympics: two years to go
February 9, 2008
Tempus fugits. Time flies. Tuesday will be two years out from Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
Feb. 12, 2010 will bring ski jump qualifying on the normal hill at Whistler Olympic Park – about two hours north of the city and overseen by Parkite John Aalberg – during the day. Opening Ceremonies will be that night at BC Park in Vancouver. And then 17 days of competition in 15 winter sports. (For full schedules and details, including the Paralympics, which have a 10-day lineup of events beginning March 12: http://www.vancouver2010.com )
(Has it really been six years since the 2002 five-ring circus, OWG XIX, came to town? The Sundance crush without the black trench coats?)
You can be sure athletes and coaches can sense the urgency of making every run, every jump, every training session count. That’s as true for the snow sports (alpine, biathlon, cross-country, freestyle, jumping, Nordic combined or snowboarding) as it is for sliding (bobsled, luge, skeleton) or the various forms of skating (speed, short track and figure) or, of course, curling.
It wasn’t always that way. Four-plus decades ago, when he was angling for a place in the 1964 Olympics, young Bill Marolt – and skiers named Kidd, Heuga, Saubert, Werner, among others – saw a different picture. There were only three alpine events: combined wouldn’t be restored to the Olympics until 1988 in Calgary and super-G wouldn’t exist for nearly two more decades. And the World Cup didn’t exist, either.
"There were only the three events in alpine – slalom, GS and downhill," said Marolt, president and CEO of the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. And USSA stood for U.S. Ski Association; snowboard hadn’t been concocted, either.
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And one other big difference: there was no year-round U.S. Ski Team. That didn’t happen for another year – until Bob Beattie was hired June 21, 1965 at the USSA convention in Spokane, Wash., as the first fulltime Ski Team coach for alpine. (Nordic eventually followed suit.)
Today, Marolt oversees a USSA realm that includes 10 able-bodied Olympic teams (plus women’s ski jumping, which isn’t on the menu for 2010) and four disabled squads. As he looks 24 months down the road, he likes what he sees from the various skiers and riders, from the veterans as well as the up-and-coming athletes.
But he’s also cautious because there’s a huge difference between today’s success and the day after tomorrow’s Olympic podium. And, as he noted, "Every other nation has upped the ante – and we need to keep improving, too."
One key element of the two-years-out snapshot is that U.S. skiers and snowboarders have won at least once in every sport where USSA fields a World Cup team. The qualifier, of course, is that there is no men’s World Cup jumping team although Park City’s Anders Johnson, a 2006 Olympian at 16, is competing this weekend in Liberec, Czech Republic. He was 15th last month in a Continental Cup jumping meet in Germany.
Parkite Lindsey Vonn is No. 1 in the World Cup downhill standings and No. 2 in the overall points. She’s won three more races and has 10 victories in her career. Bode Miller, training on his own away from the Ski Team, has five wins and leads the men’s overall standings after clinching the combined crown last weekend.
Park City Winter Sports School grads – and ’06 Olympic champions – Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso have produced a cluster of top-3s. Their futures remain bright and brighter, by all accounts. Marco Sullivan’s first victory and another DH podium illustrate how it sometimes takes years to find that elusive success.
Factoid: a U.S. guy has been on the podium in every men’s World Cup downhill this winter. Factoid II: it’s not simply Vonn and Miller reaping all the podium performances – seven U.S. skiers have had a World Cup top-3 finish this season.
Park City’s T.J. Lanning has one of four Europa Cup triumphs by U.S. alpine skiers and there have been a half-dozen other U.S. podiums on the meat-grinder circuit, which is so hyper-competitive.
In addition, Alaskan Kikkan Randall’s high-voltage – and historic – cross-country sprint win before Christmas in Russia is the latest achievement by a resurgent x-c team. She’s the first U.S. woman to accomplish that feat. Bill Demong, who’s lived in Park City since 2002, is runner-up in the nordic combined World Cup world. His five podiums are a U.S. record for one season, and they include the third victory of his career.
Freestyle is showcasing a new Olympic discipline, ski cross, and Casey Puckett has a couple of podiums to go with his glittering X Games mark (third place last month but he’s also a two-time SX winner at the ESPN X-travaganza). Daron Rahlves retired two years ago from World Cup alpine, but he’s been bitten by the SX bug, and winning gold at the X Games will only fan his inner fires.
In moguls, three U.S. women have won (ex-Parkite Michelle Roark, Emiko Torito and Shelly Robertson, who conquered all in dual moguls last Saturday night at Deer Valley). World Cup newbies Pat Deneen and Kayla Snyderman podiumed in Lake Placid and Landon Gardner strung together three straight upsets in duals at DV before finishing second. Aerials remains a work in progress, as PC’s Emily Cook said last week after finishing fourth at DV.
Snowboarding has been a U.S. strength (seven medals in Torino in ’06, five in ’02) and that continues. It’s a big list of top riders. Included: Lindsey Jacobellis. Hannah Teter, who’s back after a year away to rest a knee injury. Olympic champ Seth Wescott. Nate Holland, off a snowboard cross three-peat at the X Games. Steve Fisher. Even alpine podiums (Tyler Jewell and Adam Smith), which have been scarce in recent seasons.
Some things (i.e., the need leadership) never change. Today, perhaps they’re articulated better, but they’re time-honored necessities.
Reflecting on his competitive days, and his years as U.S. alpine director, Marolt said, "You look at the principles of management and leadership – that doesn’t change very much. We had great leadership and camaraderies, and the team worked hard…
"As everything in life, individuals figure out to be better, how to train more effectively, how to compete more efficiently. It’s that old adage about ‘Stronger, bigger, faster.’ Two years from now, we need to be fully prepared with the coaches and athletes working in a cohesive way."