To the editor:
Dan Leever’s Facebook post on March 15, “What’s wrong with U.S. Ski Racing,” has generated quite a stir with tons of important insight from all. There is lots to agree with in Dan’s post, and I will interject my thoughts on the matter. First, the team does not become good or bad in a year, or in a couple of years. The lack of depth we are experiencing today (the women’s speed team being an exception) is, in part, an outcome of Marolt’s focus from about 2002-2015. Success followed Marolt’s vision back in his day. That was medals and the “A” team and it worked. However, I was alpine director of the SSWSC at this time and I remember feeling strongly that the system in place would cause problems for the future. Specifically, I thought there would be a lack of talent in the pipeline.
Marolt’s emphasis was not on development and not only that, for the first time those young athletes had to pay for much of their way. Another shift we experienced in the second Marolt era was the rise of the mega star and how those stars negotiated the World Cup tour. It became acceptable, and even the norm, for the stars to travel and operate independently of the team. Mikaela’s support team has brought this concept to a whole new level. One cannot deny that it has worked for Mikaela.
I would suggest that access to the team’s best talent ought to be a core value and guiding principal of the USST; a pillar of development. I know of no champion out there, who did not learn from watching and rubbing shoulders with those better than themselves.
As for the NCAA topic, Tiger Shaw has been in active conversations about the subject for the past year. If anyone values what the NCAA brings to US skiing, it would be Tiger. His staff has programming in place in an effort to bridge this divide. I believe a new day has arrived for the NCAA and the USST partnership. This has certainly not been the case in the past and the cry to engage these two organizations is heard by Shaw. As for salary, Shaw’s salary is half what Marolt’s was. In my view it’s not too much for a job so significant.
I find it fascinating that such an awakening is happening now, at a time when the system of the past is only more entrenched than before. Yes, the system has been somewhat misguided and Shaw has come on board to redirect the ship. Leever speaks of how the athletes are treated today, I remember in 1984 when the Olympic team was not filled; U.S. team athletes, who were the best our country produced, were denied spots on the team and denied the opportunity for the rest of their lives to answer “yes” to the first question that everyone asks, “Did you go to the Olympics?”
I know of athletes from early 2000’s who paid over $100,000, the equivalent of their college education, to be on the U.S. Ski Team. This angered me to no end. These athletes were “serving our country” in my view, competing for American pride, while Marolt was taking a massive salary (double Shaw’s) and building the Center Of Excellence.
Gang, the issues Leever speaks of have been building for quite some time. Marolt did great things for U.S. skiing. His approach simultaneously dealt Shaw a weak hand. Marolt took great care of his stars but left significant debt for Shaw to reconsile and little talent in the pipeline. He is rebuilding, shifting focus, tackling the NCAA opportunity that Marolt never touched and negotiating a complicated athlete funding dilemma that Marolt initiated. I wish all outrage we are hearing today came about back then when the seeds of our issues today were planted.
Let’s empower Tiger to get his complete system in place, which includes the NCAA, addressing the costs issue incurred by team members as well as bolstering development and club support.
DEB ARMSTRONG, 1984 Olympic gold medalist, former PSIA alpine team member, former alpine director at Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Armstrong is currently focusing on U10-U12 development and she is mother of an athlete. Armstrong was also a member of the Project 26 working group.
Editor’s note: This is a letter submitted to Ski Racing by Armstrong, which was originally published on Facebook on March 30.