Playing An Amatuer Game In A Professional League

FasterSkierMay 5, 2005

Thanks to everybody contributing to the recent debate on the status of US cross-country skiing. The articles gave a good status report and frank opinions, and best of all a host of ideas to explore for the road ahead.

There are a lot of positive aspects of US skiing. We have the best gene pool in the world and we are the wealthiest nation on earth. We have a lot of good skiers of all ages and see 400 kids come out for the junior national championships. We have in recent years established the US SuperTour and finally see a more comprehensive competition program in North America. However, we lack an adequate number of skiers on the top level and certainly the very best to ensure international excellence.

The USSA/USST operates with the slogan: ¨Best in the World.¨ That is a lofty goal and tough words to live up to. The United States as a nation has a strong ability to do well in the activities that are prioritized. Few Americans pursue xc-skiing on the premier level and we have so far seen little activty outside the participation-for-fun comfort zone. The later years have produced a few teams and club programs with visions beyond the amateur level, but these efforts have faced challenges as well. The central USSA/USST program operates on reward for performance based budget allocation. That sounds good in the principle, but also packs the great problem that nobody made the investment necessary to learn how to join the best in the first place.

Do we really want to be the ¨Best in the world?¨ Who is going to make the investment necessary to facilitate the know-how and motivation to reach that goal? In all fairness, who should be responsible for directing and motivating this massive lift?

What do other nations invest in their programs? Sweden and Norway already know how to win, so their initial investment is already done. Sweden’s National Team budget for the coming year is about 1.9 million USD. They consider that low and hope to have more funding in house soon. They have 35 skiers on National Teams. Norway’s Team heads towards Torino with almost 3.3 million USD, and they express in the press that they could use another million. They have 39 skiers in National Team training. The USSA program is in the running with around $400,000.00 and half a dozen skiers or less in National Team raining. That translates to a bit over 54,000 per skier in Sweden, $85,000.00 in Norway and $67,000.00 in the US. We know all skiers are not receiving the same level of support, it is unclear of what is included in these budgets, and we are looking at different geographic locations and economies. It is however evident that other nations spend significantly more resources on their teams and their international performance, however they chose to allocate the money. We also realize this is maintenance efforts to operate programs that already have figured out how to win the game. We are yet to do that. Top level training and performance is a risky business. One challenge may wipe out the competitiveness of our entire National Team for most of the season, while our counterparts have a new crop ready to race tomorrow.

Any of these comparisons show that we are playing an amateur game in a professional league. As eternal optimist, I see a lot of promise in US cross-country and I am positive about its future. I am also realistic enough to set expectations to realistic levels with the information we have onboard. This article is not intended to outline specific plans and solutions, but all of us working for the betterment of US cross-country need to sharpen our pencils and apply more elbow grease. With half dozen people in US Team support, even the bulk of next winters US Olympic Team will have to come from clubs and teams outside the USST. That alone should motivate people to come together about upcoming tasks. I am looking forward to a productive USSA congress in Park City in a couple of weeks.


-jon engen


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