Why didn’t the US Alpine skiers win Olympic medals?

YANQING, China – Not long ago, the leaders of Alpine skiing in the United States believed they had built something lasting, that the record number of medals won by Americans at the Olympics Vancouver 2010 heralds a machine capable of beating champions for years.

Ten years later, at the Beijing Olympics, American Alpine skiers risk their lowest medal count in 20 years.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle won a silver medal in super-G, but Mikaela Shiffrin, who has largely trained outside of the US system, was the most disappointing. Olympic in her career, with one last chance to win an individual medal in the combined event Thursday after failing to complete a run in her two best events.

On Wednesday, Luke Winters, the only American in the men’s slalom, skated his first race, going through five races where the United States had no competition in the top 10.

The machine has nurtured a golden generation of skiers who became multiple Olympic medalists, including Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso, who fell victim – depending on who one asks – some unlucky trauma, the choice is to go all – in the present instead of investing in the future, or some combination of the two.

“We tried to do many different things, including helping people win at World Cup level,” said Sasha Rearick, head coach of the Alpine men’s team from 2008 to 2018, about the association. Ski and Snowboard USA. The organization oversees Alpine skiing and six other disciplines.

“Ultimately we weren’t clearer,” he added. “We were not consistent with a clear mission.”

Not so, according to Tiger Shaw, who has led the organization since 2014 and is set to depart after the Beijing Olympics.

Shaw compared the association to a private equity firm, with annual revenue of about $38 million a year, high-risk bets and providing expertise in the form of coaching.

It’s a resource allocation game, says Shaw. “You’re trying to do the right thing in many areas, trying to give everyone a chance and at the same time support the best athletes.”

The results were undisputed: The team the United States brought to Beijing struggled to compete with the world’s best skiers on the sport’s biggest stage.

Americans have only one medal to eight races, and no skier made the top 10 in four races. The American men were without a participant in the men’s combined event for the first time since it was included in the Olympic program in 1988.

After finishing fourth in the giant slalom, River Radamus, a 24-year-old from Colorado, said he was well aware of the large ski boots that would fill up. “I hope we can live up to the legacy,” he said.

The team was weakened on the eve of the Olympics when Breezy Johnson, reportedly a medal contender in the women’s downhill, withdrew with an injury.

Also, snowmobile racing can be incredibly random, especially in the pressure cooker of an Olympics, and on a new hill in China where top skiers have never competed. The world champion (Shiffrin) can slide. Long-range shots like Austria’s Johannes Strolz, who tuned his own skis and won the aggregate, could prevail.

However, the more skiers a team has with a history of success, the better their chances of winning a medal. But while the team was building its medal collection from 2006 to 2014, little attention was paid to building depth for the next generation of riders.

With a talented collection of skiers at the peak of their careers, the Ski and Snowboard Association of America has decided to invest heavily in elite performance. At the top level, very little cost has been saved. The organization has hired top coaches from Europe, a director of sports science from Australia, and another expert, a former surgeon and physiologist named Jim Stray-Gundersen, who has been spent many years working with Norway’s Olympic development program, considered by many to be the best in the world.

The organization has opened a splendid headquarters and training center in Park City, Utah, and spends up to $1 million per year on the research of elite athletes, not only in Alpine but across all departments. subject. Those investments have helped the United States maintain its supremacy in skiing and become a competitor in women’s cross-country skiing.

For the top alpine skiers, there are also off-season training camps in Chile and New Zealand. The organization even paid to prepare practice slides that resembled the hard and icy World Cup tracks, a move that several teams in Europe have copied since.

A handful of top skiers have had all their travel and training covered. However, young skiers have had to cover costs that can run up to $30,000 a year.

When Cochran-Siegle finished high school as a nationally and internationally ranked amateur athlete, he received an email congratulating him on being selected to the US Ski Team development team, or D-Team, a big step towards the highest levels of the US snowmobile racing hierarchy. It includes a bill for training and coaching for $5,000.

His mother, Barbara Ann Cochran, a 1972 Alpine gold medalist, wrote back and declined the invitation, in part because she had no money. The ski team replied that they had found several sources of funding – in the form of grants and scholarships – for Ryan to join the team. But his early career also relied on the generosity of the expanding Cochran snowmobile racing family, which provided regular accommodation at national ski team training facilities.

However, the cost of the sport makes trying to go from promising young skier to world-class competitor a risky and expensive proposition. A full scholarship to a top university with a competitive ski team has become a much safer route, although some at the top sport would argue it provides the training needed. essential to the career of a top professional skier.

Financing for the development of the skier was not restored until 2018.

“At the time, it was exactly the right strategy,” says Luke Bodensteiner, the organization’s former sporting director, of investing in the best.

“What we’re saying is, ‘Give Lindsey and Bode and Ted and Julia everything they would get if they came from Austria,'” Bodensteiner said.

That gamble paid off with medals, but it came at a heavy cost. The American coaches suspect the organization may have missed out on some prospects that may be entering their prime.

Bodensteiner said if he could have come back, he could have been more patient and tried to find a way to build a long-term foundation for Alpine success, knowing the rewards likely won’t come for several more Olympic cycles. .

“We know we have great athletes,” said Bodensteiner. “The choices boil over, do we compromise on them and try to move on with some stuff that won’t pay off in 12 years or go all out to make it happen?”

Bill Pennington contributed reporting. Why didn’t the US Alpine skiers win Olympic medals?

Fry Electronics Team

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