XCFeedsThe Curse, College and Believing in Skiing

Avatar Johnny KlisterMay 28, 2009

br/In 2004 when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, much was made of the reversal of the curse of the Bambino.  A short documentary, the appropriate revival of the losses that Red Sox fans suffered through and a thorough history of Babe Ruth’s 86-year effect on the ball club were a hot topic.  The individual players on the club were unfazed, mercenaries hired by the best minds in baseball to win regardless of history, and win they did.  To quote the Boston sports columnist Bill Peterson, “If there’s anything to curses, they’re mental. They become expectations that are reified when Bucky Dent beats you with a home run or a ground ball scoots through Bill Buckner’s legs.”  br/As cross country skiers, we’re living a similar curse- it’s a curse of culture, history and circumstance.  Where does the mental block come from?  An examination:br/Cross country skiing is particularly participatory in this country.  Given the small geographical locale for skiing spread out across a big country and the myriad other sports that compete with skiing, most programs take all comers and don’t separate based on talent or physical gifts, the participants.  Programs are successful first if they have numbers, second if those numbers perform.  This is a strength of skiing- it builds the closeness of the community.  It’s also a weakness, since there are few places skiers are culled out made elite, pushed in a way similar to basketball or baseball players.  Our “all-star teams” are smaller and more vulnerable.  If we lose one good athlete, that represents a higher percentage of loss in our sport than it would in baseball or basketball.  br/Because of our niche position, we attract a certain type of athlete.  There are very few folks that ski well, coach well or are involved deep in the ski community that don’t have a natural feeling of opposition.  That feeling could be described as “I don’t care if the world doesn’t follow skiing, I love and believe in it.”  The sport is tough physically demanding isolated self-confidence and drive.  It may be tougher culturally demanding an even more stubborn, focused and driven folks.  Think Zach Caldwell.  br/Finally, we’re haunted by what we are not.  You need only to read the impassioned reports from the world cup and Team Today to know that as a ski country, we have a lot to prove.  If medals were handed out based on pure wanting it, we’d crush all comers.  They aren’t however. br/These bits and pieces add up to the curse, the mental hiccup that gets in our way time and time again.  There’s no one at fault.  No bambino.  No hidden race number from Bill Koch buried under the stadium at Soldier Hollow.  There are just a series of events that have put us down.  Here’s where we cannot start to doubt ourselves or question and or cast blame. br/The USST released a statement urging athletes to push ahead with a year or two of deferred acceptance to college and to focus on skiing.  Andy Newell, in a Faster Skier interview explained it this way, “I think the other big area we could improve on is in College skiing.  Right now in the US you can’t go to college full time and still train at a competitive level. People who say you can are full of it. It’s just embedded too much in the American culture that you have to go to college right after high school. If you’re a fast junior skier you should definitely weigh your options.”  By themselves, these aren’t untrue or unreasonable statements but there are a few points that are important to understand.br/ Firstly, there is no such thing as “college skiing”- to label it such implies that college programs are unified, driven and focused into an institution.  They aren’t.  There is no common goal for all college programs. Some programs are driven to build skiers beyond graduation, some aren’t. Some are driven at NCAA success.  Some aren’t. There is so much discrepancy in what the programs believe and support and so much difference in tradition and financial offering that to toss college skiing in one big pot is just as ineffective as saying that “junior skiing” or “post-23 skiing” is not getting it done.  “College skiing” isn’t getting it done…but that’s because “college skiing” doesn’t exist.  Like junior skiing, there are collegiate programs that are working towards success post college and programs that are not.  Some college skiers are training at a competitive level, however.  Over the last two years several collegiate skiers collected top ten and twenty finishes at the U23 and World Junior Championships.  These skiers owed that success, in part, to their college programs.  It is the next step that is important, the next jump up the results page.  The next step will take a Red Sox approach, an unfazed approach with the support of the entire skiing community.br/ It is here where the questions start mounting.  Should a skier take a year off from college if they’ve started? What type of support will there be for athletes that take a year off?  What is the rate of success for kids who ski for a year only?  Which college programs are committed to post collegiate success?  There is no single answer which is why each athlete has to be conscious and confident about making their own development happen.  Pete Vordenberg at the coaches congress said, “I only know what hasn’t worked.”  Pete, along with all of us, is looking for what will work. College coaches, club coaches and USST coaches will need to work harder to make certain that the inevitable transitions between programs that will occur don’t leave cracks in training and support for an athlete to slip through. Club coaches need to reach out to successful skiers both from college.  There needs to be racing longer into the season: a joint USST / NCAA trip would be a good step.  Bring those athletes to a round of late Europa cups following the collegiate season. br/It would be a bad decision to cut out any possible avenue for skiing success.  Across all disciplines there are hard working, gifted coaches pushing success.  There is an ember of belief burning in the ski community that hasn’t previously.  To those that naysay, that point to mistakes (“The Ski Team is wrong. College is wrong.  It will never happen.”), get on board.  It is too easy to point out the difficulty.  Offer solutions.  To do less would be to strengthen the curse.  – Andrew Gardner

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