Commentary: After Shiffrin, Vonn, U.S. Ski Team has depth issues
March 30, 2018
The email sent earlier this week was titled, "Sasha Rearick Named as Head Alpine Men's Development Coach."
Sounds like a good announcement by the U.S. Ski Team, except for the fact that Rearick's previous title was head coach of the men's alpine team.
Essentially, Rearick got canned, yes, technically reassigned, but canned.
But how much of this is on Rearick?
The U.S. Men's Ski Team was bad this year. There's no other way of putting it. Yes, the gents were skunked at the Olympics, which doesn't look good to most of the public that watches ski racing once every four years.
The bigger issue is that the American men had just one podium all season on the World Cup — Ted Ligety finished third in a giant slalom in Garmisch, Germany, at the end of January.
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There is something to be said for a coach in any sport having shelf life — Rearick had been the coach for a decade — and getting a new voice with a team is a common practice. Yet, in fairness to Rearick, there wasn't much there last season.
In speed, a few years ago, Travis Ganong seemed on the verge of a breakthough. He struggled this winter and then did his ACL. Steven Nyman never got over a knee injury from the 2016-17 and was injured again. Andrew Weibrecht failed to repeat his Olympic podium act — truthfully we didn't expect another super-G medal.
On the tech side, Ligety was returning from a back injury and he looked very much like a guy who's turning 34 this summer. And there isn't much after Ted in American men's tech.
Yes, Bryce Bennett had a nice year in speed, but when Bennett popping some top 10s is a highlight of the season, it ain't a good year.
Any team in a any sport goes through transitions. It certainly looks like that for the U.S. Men's Ski Team. We've been through this before with young whippersnappers such as Bode Miller, Daron Rahlves and some kid named Ligety.
The bigger question is where is the depth in American skiing — men's or women's?
THE BIG TWO
The American Ski Team, for better or worse, has two racers on it — Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn.
They are member Nos. 1 and 1a and I don't know which one is which.
I said for "better or worse," and right now is certainly better. Shiffrin racked up 12 World Cup wins and an Olympic GS gold. And, by the way, she repeated as the World Cup champion. The most wins in a World Cup women's season are Switzerland's Vreni Schneider (14, 1988-89), Vonn and Shiffrin at 12 (2011-12 and 2018-18), and a five way tie at 11 — Vonn did it in 2009-10 and Shiffrin in 2016-17.
Vonn added another five wins and a downhill bronze in South Korea. The bigger picture is that she's sitting on 82 World Cup wins, four behind Ingemar Stenmark. That probably goes down next year.
By the way, which nation — men's and women's combined — won the most World Cup events this season?
The United States of Shiffrin and Vonn with 17. My bet would have been Austria, which finished with 16 (15 from the gents and 13 of those from Marcel Hirscher. There's a reason he's won seven overall titles on a row.) Norway had eight and Italy, Germany and Switzerland all had seven each.
We live in a great period of American skiing.
But what happens when Vonn retires, as is expected after the 2018-19 season?
Shiffrin, knock wood with health, skis on.
But there is no depth to be found on the American team.
Yes, Alice McKennis, born in New Castle and seen about Minturn, came on strong late with a fifth-place finish in the Olympic downhill and a bronze at the World Cup Finals.
It definitely unfortunate that Jackie Wiles got hurt right before the Olympics. She was skiing well. Breezy Johnson, again a terrific name for a skier, has shown some flashes, finishing 11th in the downhill points.
Yet the United State did not have a skier not named Shiffrin or Vonn in the top 30 overall points this year. Aside from the Dynamic Duo, Ligety was tops for the men in 40th and Johnson 39th for the women.
Where are the next great American skiers?
MEANWHILE IN IDAHO …
Perhaps, it would have been a little over the top to title this section of this article, "Episode 4: A New Hope."
"It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire …"
But is anyone watching the U.S. Alpine championships in Sun Valley, Idaho?
On Friday, March 23, Nina O'Brien, 20, won the super-G in nationals and Nellie Talbot, 18, was third.
Those names should be familiar (to Coloradans). O'Brien's official club affiliation is the Burke Academy in Vermont, but has raced with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and lives in Edwards. Talbot is a SSCV racer out of Vail.
It can be somewhat confusing who races for what ski club, but River Radamus, 20, is SSCV through and through and he finished third in the men's national super-G on Friday.
It's very early in these three's careers. Radamus and O'Brien are on the C-Team, while Talbot is on the D-Team.
O'Brien is the grizzled veteran of the three with 10 World Cup starts to Radamus' two. Talbot hasn't gotten the call-up yet.
Potential is one of the most frustrating word in sports. A lot of athletes have potential. Turning it into action and results is the art of advancing in any sport.
But these might be some names to remember.
And since Rearick is now the U.S. Ski Team's head alpine development coach, perhaps they'll be seeing more of them now.