Youth is well-served for U.S. women
ASPEN – At the start of this season, Libby Ludlow unexpectedly became the oldest member of the U.S. Women’s Alpine Team.”We definitely are missing losing Sarah (Schelper), having (Kirsten Clark) retire and losing Caroline (Lalive) to injury – they’ve been around for a long time, and I’ve looked up to them. The dynamic is totally different, but it’s really positive,” the 26-year-old Ludlow said. There may not be any women on the U.S. squad that have been on the World Cup for a decade, but that isn’t stopping the team from being a constant contender on the tour.”We definitely have a young team,” said Patrick Riml, the women’s head coach. “We’ve got 23-year-old girls wining super-Gs and downhills and going for the overall. We have some young ones coming up like Leanne (Smith) and Resi (Stiegler). With a few more years’ experience, especially on the speed side, we’ll be rocking.” Jesse Hunt, the head alpine director for U.S. skiing, knows that having such a young squad isn’t always easy.”Certainly it can have its challenges. Part of the reason it has been positive is because the coaches have worked to make it that way. There is a component of the team having them live and travel together that makes it important,” Hunt said. Even though they may not be separated much by age, the women each bring something unique to the table to help better the squad.”I may not bring the best results – Julia (Mancuso), Lindsey (Vonn) and Resi are bringing them home, but I’ve been around for a long time and have learned a lot,” Ludlow said. “And I think I have a lot of knowledge to impart on the girls. I’m happy I can contribute to the team in some ways other than results. Stiegler, who has made her mark with some technical results, provides a comical boost to the team, as well.”It’s a good balance,” Stiegler said. “All of us know how to go out and have a good time and go dance and forget about skiing for a night. I think what happens is we travel the world and are away from the U.S. for so long that we have to be able to understand that one girl may be really serious and there may be a big difference. In the end, it’s a family, and we have to be like sisters – that’s the only way we’ll get ahead of the Europeans, if we create a home environment and create the fun.”
While newcomer Leanne Smith misses some of her Europa Cup and “C” squad teammates, she feels quite welcomed among the top U.S. skiers, who are only a few years older than her.”Lindsey is really helpful and Kaylin (Richardson) is helping,” Smith said. “It’s nice to get a bunch of different girls and see how they operate. I’ve been watching how they ski for a long time. It’s cool that nobody is like 32 and looking at me like I’m a little squirt. You can relate to people your age.” The current atmosphere is an improvement from years past, Stiegler said.”I’ve been on the team for seven to eight years starting on the developmental team when I was 14,” she said. “It was different then. There was a huge gap, and not many girls got along.” Nobody can dispute that team harmony is good, but results are pretty important, too. And right now, everyone seems to be on track.”Seeing our older and more experienced athletes perform well and seeing our younger athletes step in and earn World Cup points for the first time, it’s a great combination,” Hunt said. Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at email@example.com or 748-2935.