Team USA Returns To Whistler Cup
After a six-year hiatus in participating at the elite Junior Mackenzie Investments Whistler Cup in Canada, the United States sent six highly qualified U16 athletes to compete in 2017. The 25th Whistler Cup took place April 13-16, 2017, and the U.S. delegation brought home nine top-20 finishes.
Whistler Cup, the only FIS-sanctioned event of its kind in North America, has a reputation for showcasing the Who’s Who in the future of the sport. The last time the U.S. sent a team was one season after a 15-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin beat out Petra Vlhova in the giant slalom by more than 2.5 seconds and also podiumed in the super-G there. Amongst other top-name performers of the past were Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso who, of course, we all know quite well today.
The decision to bring U.S. athletes to the Mackenzie Investments Whistler Cup once again highlighted a large philosophical shift for junior racing on USSA’s behalf. This year USSA has taken a renewed approach to exposing U16s to international competition.
“Since the FIS age change from 15 to 16, it has become increasingly important to elevate the quality and intensity of the U16 program,” says USSA Alpine Development Director Chip Knight. “This way, elite-tracking athletes are well prepared to enter into the FIS ranks.”
At the core of Knight’s philosophy is preparation for the ski racing careers that lie ahead for these developing athletes. By reintegrating Americans into international competition, athletes are exposed to the depth that exists globally and will continue to exist as they develop into FIS-level racers. Within this age group, USSA was also able to gauge the competitiveness of their athletes against an international standard.
Although it’s still too early in the reintegration process to fully assess the outcome, USSA hopes to continue the effort by inviting young athletes to regional and national races in upcoming years.
U.S. athlete qualifications for the Mackenzie Investments Whistler Cup were made at the 2017 U16 Junior National Championships. USSA selected three women and three men (year of birth 2002) based on the best two out of three race points accumulated in GS, slalom, and super-G.
This year’s race results showed a solid and consistent effort put forth by the U.S. squad. U16 athletes Georgie Sullivan of Sugar Bowl Academy, Nico Richeda of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC), Nicola Rountree-Williams of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), Jake Reich of SSWSC, Wyatt Hall of SSCV, and Zoe Zimmerman of Burke Mountain Academy made up a small group among 400 of the world’s best 12-to-16-year-olds from more than 20 countries who competed in Whistler. The best American performers in the super-G race were Reich, finishing in 13th place for men, while Zimmerman finished in seventh place for women. Richeda was only 0.34 seconds away from the podium in fourth place in the giant slalom, and on the women’s side Zimmerman managed an 11th-place finish. On the last day, Hall finished as the top male American in 15th place in slalom, though no American women finished the slalom.
“This is an amazing group of athletes that we got to work with on the [Whistler] trip,” says Rocky Central Regional Development Director Darlene Nolting. “We have had some good bonding going on and these athletes showed some grit and tenacity in these races. Although a lot of athletes did not get the results they might have been looking for, all-in-all it was a race to remember!”
Fulfilling USSA’s goal of rewarding the top-performing U16 athletes with an international experience, these athletes walked away from the race with just that as they look ahead to more intense competition next year.
Complete results from Whistler Cup are available here.
Additional news articles from each day of competition are also available: