In what has been called a final Hail Mary by the U.S. Nordic Combined team to rekindle its relationship with the national governing body of skiing in the United States, USSA CEO Tiger Shaw described how the organization plans to allocate funds to the Nordic Combined national team for the next two seasons “in exchange for a commitment from the combined community to help acquire new foundation donors at a commensurate level.”
Shaw outlined the plan in an email to USSA trustees: “This commitment on the side of the USSA will support an additional coach, associated travel and other needed items at an approximate cost of $150,000 annually, further stabilizing the program.” Essentially, USSA hopes to jump-start the process of self-funding for Nordic Combined, with the hopes of easing and propelling the process of its future sustainability.
“The Nordic Combined funding model has forever been changed so we need to build something that has a strong foundation and a culture of community and self-funding,” said Bill Demong, a member on the board of the National Nordic Foundation and USA Ski Jumping. “That being said, Tiger is getting creative in terms of how he might create a partnership between ancillary organizations.”
In April, the Nordic ski community was shocked to learn that USSA had dropped funding the Nordic Combined team as part of its sweeping, post-Olympic budget cuts. The move was characterized as a business decision, as the Nordic Combined program lacked the sustainability and development potential necessary for USSA funding, despite its multiple Olympic and World Championship medals in past seasons.
The most recent change came at the urging of Demong, 2010 gold medalist and Nordic Combined team member, at the meeting of USSA trustees two weeks ago, where he pointed out how sudden USSA’s decision came without notice.
“We had a discussion at the trustee meeting where I think it was pointed out and discussed openly that there was no warning given,” said Demong. “As a result, USSA got creative.” The organization has agreed to allot 15 Gold Pass donations to aid the transition for Nordic Combined, but it will not reinstall the team as a full-time U.S. Ski Team operation.
Initially, the team had moved to partner with USA Ski Jumping, which has functioned separately from USSA by garnering its own individual sponsors. USSA’s new boost in funding will not change those arrangements. As Bryan Fletcher, a long-time member of the team, put it, they now have an opportunity to start anew and reach into different funding pools that otherwise would have been restricted by USSA.
He noted, “It does allow us to form new partnerships and it does allow us to market ourselves in a new market with sponsors relevant to our sport and movement.”
Although the two entities compete separately, they are “one team in spirit,” said Fletcher. “We certainly see ourselves working together on equipment innovations, coaches’ education and athlete education, training together to boost each others levels and push each other.”
Despite the tumultuous nature of the spring season, the team continues to keep an eye on the future, setting big goals and working to make the program sustainable. In addition to introducing a C Team to its development structure, the group has generated a pipeline plan and development system designed to keep interest in the sport.
When asked how he viewed the future of the sport, Demong said, “Ideally we find a way to work with USSA in a manner that allows for us to get some funding for our national teams, if we’re bringing our athletes to the appropriate level.” In order to do so, he added, it will be the responsibility of subsidiary programs like USA Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined to cultivate and sustain a strong development program.
“I think we will be able to produce better athletes at a younger age and most importantly a steady pipeline of athletes coming to the top level,” said Fletcher. “It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though, its going to take a lot of hard work to establish this structure, it will take time for these young athletes to develop and most importantly it will take some generous donations from believers, supporters and partners.”
For now, USSA has allocated 15 Gold Passes to the Nordic Combined effort, with the hopes of raising awareness of the program throughout its own community.
“This type of partnership and commitment is an example of the collaboration that can lead to stable sources of funding for sports that are not significantly supported as the USSA adjusts its allocation of available resources following Olympic quad cycles,” Shaw said of the arrangement. “These adjustments allow us to maximize the efficacy of our programs, which we must do to continue our quest of being the Best in the World.”
Fletcher’s brother, two-time Olympian and US Nordic Combined member Taylor, said that he had a hard time with the cut from USSA. While he and his brother still had access to Park City’s Center of Excellence as well as direct donation USSA funding (which they allocated to their staff), he felt that the overall decision was a mistake.
“The attitude of the team going forward is the best I’ve seen in a while,” said Taylor, who noted that the cut from USSA has fueled the team’s motivation to train harder. “The future of Nordic Combined is bright.”
Both the Fletchers agreed that training has gone well this summer, and no matter which turn the team takes in terms of governing bodies, they prioritize skiing and will be ready for success this winter.