U.S. Ski Team looks to 2006
The U.S. Ski Team hopes momentum from 2003-04 carries through the next two seasons
By Ryan Slabaugh
Summit County Correspondent
Consider it one down, a few to go.
Since the 2002 Olympics in Utah, the U.S. Ski Team has made its goal very obvious – be the best in the world in 2006. With nine World Cup freestyle moguls victories – including three from skiers in their first full season on the tour and 40 top-three finishes – the freestyle team has accomplished its part.
Vail’s Toby Dawson led the way with three wins.
“You always want more wins, and we do – but we dominated men’s moguls with four of the top five (in the overall), six in the top eight skiers, and we had four in the top seven among the women,” U.S. head coach Jeff Wintersteen said.
“We’re fortunate. No one has the depth we have in moguls … and in aerials, we showed solid improvement.”
Injuries still played a major part in the end of the season.
Dawson missed the World Cup Finals with a broken leg, Jeremy Bloom and Travis Cabral missed the Finals to have aching knees examined, Breckenridge’s Luke Westerlund missed the last three events with a dislocated shoulder and Olympic medalist Shannon Bahrke broke her jaw and missed the final month of the season.
The alpine ski teams had their best overall season since the 1980s, thanks to Bode Miller’s World Cup giant-slalom championship, the first World Cup title won by an American since Phil Mahre won the overall in 1983.
Miller and Daron Rahlves combined for 10 World Cup victories this year.
The men’s team finished third in the Nations Cup, a competition determined by total points on the World Cup tour, behind Italy and Austria, while the women placed fourth.
It was the men’s best finish since 1983 and the women’s best finish since 1987, according to Bill Marolt, president of the U.S. Ski Team.
Marolt credited a push from young skiers like Vail’s Lindsey Kildow, who had her first World Cup podium this year, and Tom Rothrock for creating much-needed depth. The newcomers sparked veterans like Vail’s Sarah Schleper into having her best season in three years. Schleper finished second in the slalom at the World Cup Finals.
“One of our challenges is to find and get the maximum performance out of the women,” Marolt said. “Clearly, the potential is there.”
In Italy in 2006, Schleper, Caroline Lalive, Jonna Mendes and Kristina Koznick will be racing in their third Winter Olympics.
The 2005 season, a World Championship year, will take a different tour through the United States.
America’s opening race had been held at Park City, Utah, but the resort dropped out of the running early last season.
The U.S. Ski Team has narrowed the location for its opening races, usually scheduled for the third week in November, to three resorts. Marolt would not go into specific detail, but he did say that the three resorts are in the western region.
“The negotiations are at a point in time where, in the resort’s standpoint, they’d rather just keep it confidential,” Marolt said.
The schedule must be finalized by early June.
Lindsey Jacobellis made her claim as one of the most exciting athletes on the team this season, after winning every boardercross event she entered this season, including four World Cup races, the X Games and the national title with a victory at the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix.
Vermont’s Jacobellis also won the Joetsu, Japan, World Cup halfpipe to complete a historic World Cup sweep after winning two boardercross races the two days prior.
“She’s world class,” Marolt said. “If you talk about being best in the world, snowboarding is tough. Just because of the nature of snowboarding and the way we’re organized, we have so many athletes on company teams, it’s hard to be definitive. None of our athletes (compete) in every World Cup competition.”
Steve Fisher, a Breckenridge Freeride Team member and X Games champ, made himself a household name in halfpipe competitions by winning two stops of the Triple Crown, his first World Cup in Joetsu, Japan, and then capped the season with a second-place finish at the U.S. Open.
Hannah Teter also flexed her muscle in the pipe by winning the Chilean World Cup, and then four consecutive contests including the first two Grand Prix stops for the overall title, a Triple Crown and the X Games live on national television – all before her 17th birthday.
On the alpine side, Michelle Gorgone made huge strides toward Olympic success with five World Cup top-five finishes, including a third-place result in Whistler, B.C.
At just 21 years old and only in her second full season on the World Cup tour, the two-time World Junior medalist opened and closed her season with NorAm wins at the Colorado events in Copper Mountain and Breckenridge.
Aspen’s Chris Klug mirrored Gorgone’s two wins on the national circuit and turned up the steam on the World Cup with four top-10 finishes in the final five weeks of the season.
U.S. Nordic combined skiers, with a sixth World Cup victory by Todd Lodwick and two top-fives from a healthy Johnny Spillane, remain among the sport’s contenders.
“I think we’re farther along the road to 2006 than we were at the start of the season,” Head coach Bard Elden said.
In ski jumping, Clint Jones was the one-man U.S. squad and he had two top-30 finishes.
Onward to 2006
Marolt and U.S. Ski Team coaches are driving the program with a four-tiered approach.
First, the elite members of the team will be marketed toward a national audience to build sponsorship revenue.
“We’re identifying athletes who have that success, who have that charisma and who have that appeal to the public,” Marolt said.
“Our country loves its stars and loves its big athletes. Frankly, we’ll spend more time in New York. That’s were we’ve got to affect the marketplace.”
The second tier involves the development programs. Marolt said he would continue to work with the 400-odd ski clubs across the country to find the best talent.
The third tier deals with sports science, something the Austrian team has mastered.
“That’s been a really big boost to the athletes,” Marolt said. “As we’ve seen the athletes perform at higher and higher levels, part of the success has to be attributed to the work of our training staff.”
The final step deals with coach education. In order to make sure all athletes are receiving top coaching, the U.S. Ski Team will be advising club coaches on new and progressive techniques.
The U.S. Ski Team contributed to this report.
Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 257, or at email@example.com