‘Best in the World’ isn’t just a pipe dream
In the midst of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria, a few weeks ago, Ted Ligety fielded a question at a press conference about why the Americans hadn’t set a medals goal for the Championships. A bit puzzled, Ligety responded: "Have you seen the motto of the U.S. Ski Team? It says, ‘Best in the World.’ We’ve set goals."
Yes, indeed. U.S. athletes have not only been setting goals, they’ve been achieving them.
When the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) established its Best in the World vision in 1997, there was little indication that it was possible. However, over the last month, U.S. skiers and snowboarders have shown a diversity of success unlike anything in the past.
It began innocently enough in mid-January when teenager Arielle Gold scored an upset win in halfpipe at the FIS Snowboarding World Championships in Quebec.
It continued in early February as Ted Ligety won the World Championship in super G. A few days later he took the super combined. And he capped it off with gold in giant slalom. Not to be outdone, teen Mikaela Shiffrin won gold in slalom. Together with Julia Mancuso’s bronze in the super G, it gave the U.S. Ski Team the medals title the first time a non-European team had won that crown in history.
A few hundred miles away in Davos, Switzerland, Kikkan Randall and her cross-country teammates watched in wonder as Julia, Ted and Mikaela wrapped up their five medals. "Now it’s our turn," said Randall.
She was right.
In the heart of the Italian Dolomites, U.S. nordic skiers had their own World Championships to remember. Park City’s own Sarah Hendrickson kicked it off with gold in ski jumping. Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won the team sprint and the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team set itself up with a strong morning on the jumps to take bronze in the team event.
Americans winning nordic medals? Hendrickson’s gold was the second in three women’s jumping championships for the USA, and the U.S. Nordic Combined Team won Olympic gold (Billy Demong) and silver (team) in Vancouver in 2010. But Randall and Diggins’ win in the team cross-country sprint that was a first! What made it even more special is that the two came to the stadium in Lago di Tesero that morning as the favorites and they came through.
"This is the most incredible day of my ski career so far," said Randall. "We’ve been looking forward to this race all year. We’ve been talking about it and the whole team has been helping us get here."
Hearing stadium announcer Kjell-Erik Kristiansen call Randall into the stadium and seeing her ski unopposed to a gold medal caused time to stand still for American cross-country racers and fans.
"That was so incredible, seeing that clean snow in front of me and crossing the line," she said. "I tried to be stoic and stand up for a while but my legs were pretty dead. That moment when your teammate comes running out and it starts to sink in that you’re World Champions: it’s incredible."
One athlete who is no stranger to titles is Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic halfpipe snowboarding gold medalist. A decade later, Clark is still dominant in her sport. But a year ago she saw her sweet 16 win streak snapped at the Burton U.S. Open, which attracts the top riders in the world. This year she made sure, dropping in on her first run to clinch gold a record sixth Open crown, leading a USA sweep of the women’s podium while Shaun White and Louie Vito took gold and bronze for the men.
It’s been an amazing two months for U.S. skiers and snowboarders, with Sochi just 11 months away. And for a season finale, the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships are underway in Norway.
Best in the World. It’s quite a goal!
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, 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.
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After naming Wasatch Freestyle its freestyle program of the year last week, the program picked up another honor as coach Bryon Wilson was named the domestic freestyle coach of the year.