The part I thought was especially ironic......was in the WCSN telecast of the 2008 US Nationals, where Bill Marolt made a big deal out of how "we" won 5 crystal globes. I think Bode did the right thing...for Bode...and Vonn, Mancuso, and others manage to succeed within the USST structure...although there are rumours that Vonn and Ligety are going to join Team America. Regardless, I think ski racing is in store for some major changes, to whit:
- Ski racing, at least in terms of TV coverage and the attendant $$$ stream, is clearly second fiddle to skier cross, jibbing, and all the other variants of that stuff. The FIS went through some incredibly naive postulations about what it would take to get youth interested in racing again. I have no doubt that today's crop of young (and not so young) racers do it for love of sport. However, if it costs you $40,000 a year just to be a B team member on the USST (which is what happened to some of our athletes this year)...and this in spite of the fact that the USST has a budget of around $15 million a year, Marolt makes something like $600,000 a year, and the USST just spent megamillions on a complex in Park City...well, maybe you'll be forced to think about switching to another venue, such as but not limited to skiercross. Similarly, if Shaun White can actually have a career, make millions in his sport...what is there to incent the young ski racer, especially when he or she is expected to forgo college to make the USST?
So ski racing clearly need an injection of plain old $$$$, and it has to come in at the lower levels to help support racers during their formative years, and to give them an actual career path...which is the way it works in Europe.
- Similarly, the hard goods manufacturers...skis, bindings, boots...made a pitch to the FIS saying that things would have to change, or they wouldn't be able to provide the support for ski racing that they currently do. The major manufacturers cough up an incredible amount of money in product, service, and associated costs (e. g., travel)...and all they can hope for is some winning athletes and better ski or binding or boot sales the next season. There wouldn't be any ski racing without the support these major players provide, and there needs to be another way for them to get revenue out of racing. The factory team concept, where they sign racers, pay their expenses, but perhaps get a share of their winnings and endorsements, might be a way to go....or perhaps private teams. The FIS, of course, doesn't see the problem.
- The WC schedule is a mess, and everybody knows it. The same is kind of true for the domestic North American schedule. There are too many races, it's expensive, travel intensive, and there are few guarantees (the major North American venues, such as Beaver Creek, being as close as you'll often get), that the races are actually going to be held as scheduled. Apparently, Atle Skaardal, who ought to know, and others have brought this to the attention of the FIS. Result: absolutely nothing.
- The USST structure is there, as with most major corporations, to ensure that the USST prospers. The athletes on the team are clearly the instruments of the USST policy, not the prime focus. Read through Phil McNichol's recent interview in Ski Racing, if you don't believe me.
All of this, and more, has to stop for ski racing to survive, let alone prosper. I think it will, I just don't know how. There was an interesting article in Ski Racing earlier this season that talked about all the problems facing ski racing, including but not limited to the above, plus global warming. The article basically concluded that ski racing would continue somehow, because it's a truly great sport, and there will always be participants, fans, and helper bees passionate about ski racing...but in exactly what form, isn't clear as of yet.
I agree, and I say it's time for change...the sooner the better, and if whatever change doesn't produce the perfect results, then let's try something else. The idea is, as Ken Kesey said, to stop going through the same door...