Editor’s Note: This piece is an op-ed and does not necessarily reflect the views of FasterSkier. As always, please feel free to comment, but please keep discussion civil.
A lot has been written on this wesbite about the USST XC program. The site itself often behaves as a mouthpiece for the USST, but I don’t want to say any more about that here. However, there are plenty of us in this country who are dissatisfied with the results of the past twenty years or so, given all the money spent on the program. It seems a number of countries have entered the FIS fray recently and have surpassed us with their relatively young programs.
It’s easy to find excuses for our results but more difficult to find solutions. And it’s even more difficult to get the USST staff on a different track. As far as I know, there’s no advisory board for the xc program made up of non-paid employees of USST . Everything is determined in-house and so until things change, we will be subjected to whatever the USST staff decides or publishes, including the work of their marvelous spin doctors in Park City. Yeah, it’s been very discouraging.
Now, there are some objective measures for making the US Team and I’d like to look at some of the criteria, after saying this:
Our biggest weakness in this country is getting juniors to train more and even more importantly, to continue on with skiing after their secondary school educations. Quite a few areas in this country have huge high school racing fields, some as large as 500 on a given day. What happens after high school? What is the drop-out rate? I’d hate to estimate it. It’s easier to look at the options after high school because it’s easier to count these. Let’s see–there are a few clubs promoting skiing as a competitive sport for people well into their 20’s and beyond. A bunch of colleges have teams. Anything else that’s organized out there? Would all these above-mentioned outfits be able to handle more than 5% of graduating high school seniors? I doubt it.
For many skiers, going to a skiing college is the only show in town. The USST has decided to ignore these skiers since they aren’t fulltime, so we can knock them off the roster of possibilities for post-highschoolers. (It’s not accurate or wise to discard college skiers as having no potential. Surely going to a skiing college is better than not skiing at all. There have been cases of our best skiers competing on the international circuit during and after college and doing fairly well. Of course, there are others who have done well without going to college. It’s simply not a black and white issue. In addition, it’s been my experience that our skiers mature more slowly than those in Europe and so we need to learn patience. There are a host of reasons for this slowness, including those listed above, but that’s another issue I don’t want to get in here.) No matter how you look at it, now things are discouraging for skiers who want to continue racing into their late teens and early 20’s.
The new criteria for making the team include a standing in the World Cup results, 50th or better overall in distance races and 30th or better overall in the sprints. Clearly, one has to enter World Cup races to score WC points. How does one enter a WC race in order to have a chance to make the team? Well, you gotta be on the US Team, of course. It’s a Catch-22 set-up.
Consider the criteria of placing well in the World Junior Championships in order to make the team. This is a fair enough standard and it’s a good development trip, but how practical is it? The tryouts for the WJC’s are scheduled by the USST and use our National Championships. Last year and this coming year the races are in Anchorage. Look at the travel and expenses for a junior to get to these tryouts. Then, if he/she makes the team, guess who pays for the trip to the WJC’s? The junior, of course, and the last two years the costs have been around $2500 for skiers from the east coast area.. I’m not sure who pays for the coaches, whether or not the skiers are assessed some extra money to help pay for them.
Now consider the next two National Championships (2011 and 2012) being in New England. Once again, coming to these races involves a lot of travel and money for most juniors interested in making the World Junior Team. One can’t help figure out the chance of making the team, adding in the costs for a possible trip to Europe and the problem with taking off a couple of weeks in the middle of winter, giving up school or a job, and then come up with a good situation. It’s pretty chancey. Over the years, cross country skiers have not come from the wealthier skiing families, I might add. It’s not as if we have a whole bunch of trust-funders skiing xc in the junior ranks.
Pretty much the same can be said for the junior trip to Scandinavia and the team that goes to the U23 Championships. The tryouts are at the National Championships, trravel and expenses are big factors, and so on.
I mentioned earlier that it’s easy to critique the program and harder to find solutions. On this website I wrote a three-piece article a couple of years ago, made some suggestions and some predictions. The predictions turned out petty well to date and after the next Games we’ll know more about how accurate they are/were. We each have our own standards for success and I justify my feelings by considering the huge number of podiums available on the WC, WSC and OWG circuits, the enlarged number of skiers in the FIS Red Groups, and then looking at our overall standings. (I also look at international relay results as an indication of team depth.) We’re pretty low on the totem pole. I don’t know if there are standings for WC points by nations, but I’d be interested in seeing those if they exist.
The suggestions I sent along two years back were not recognized or acknowledged by the USST and as far as I know, none have been implemented. That’s OK. The USST reaction to my stuff was one of my accurate predictions anyway. Hahah!
So what good does it do to make suggestions? Probably no good. For one thing, all the readers out there can find something to disagree with–while not prescribing much themselves–and so the USST can sit confident that many suggestions were not seen as favorable by some of you readers. That’s the way it is.
However, I am not known for sitting back and I will actually suggest something again. It’s a bit wild. Here it is:
We ought to look at the countries that have emerged since the break-up of the USSR and the others that have joined the FIS since that time. We ought to send someone over to Europe and study what they have done to out-success us. I think there’s a good lesson to be learned by (as the TV ads sometimes say) looking or thinking outside the box.
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June 10, 2009 at 9:28 am
I tend to agree with all or most of this, however, getting past the first point in order to discuss the rest is difficult. The first major point I see in this piece,
“Our biggest weakness in this country is getting juniors to train more…”
But John doesn’t make that the end of the sentence and continues on to the rest of the discussion. For me this is the end of the discussion.
Until our juniors are really training we can’t discuss the rest. Many have discussed why our juniors aren’t doing better. We now see that those young people that are inspired and motivated to train are at least doing OK if not pretty well. The problem is that group is incredibly small compared to the raw numbers of participants.
Inspiration and perspiration are the key and until the juniors themselves pick up the ball and start going “ALL IN” or “ALL OUT” the rest of this discussion is moot. And don’t start in about how many hours they’re doing and how many level blah blahs they’ve put in. The truth is the kids are NOT doing the prescribed training. They spend their time dodging their coaches and doing any and everything they can think of besides the training.
As far as the rest of the piece, lots of good stuff. The one question I’ve been asking myself lately is…..”When did cross-country skiing become a country club sport?”
Good job John.
One other thing, Marty’s comments the other day about lifetime bans for doping offenses are spot on.
June 10, 2009 at 2:08 pm
I think that our problem lies far beyond whether our juniors aren’t training enough and I think it’s foolish to pinpoint it as the sole reason why we aren’t producing the results we’re completely capable of. The problem lies within the entire infrastructure of US skiing. Most of the time, J2’s enter programs where the coaches don’t actually know that much about training theory or waxing, and so it seems that our trend is J2’s either train way too hard and burn out, or they don’t train enough. You cannot blame that purely on the athlete, as most of the time, these kids don’t have a clue how hard they’re supposed to train, and end up going too hard on distance days and not hard enough on interval days. If the Athlete doesn’t know what they’re supposed to be doing, how can we blame them for not training hard enough?
And as a collegiate skier myself, it’s infuriating to feel like im written off from the pipeline purely because im in college. I happen to ski for one of the most knowledgeable coaches in the country, who also coached our current USST head coach to an NCAA championship gold medal in the 20k skate some years ago. Hmmm interesting indeed.
Sorry mike but this isn’t black and white. It’s not purely about whether juniors are training hard enough. Until we have a system where junior skiers can enter a club program at a young age, and be educated about training theory, and supported at races and throughout the year, and have programs where they can have lots of other juniors to train with on any given day, and a system where juniors can stay motivated and fired up to ski, we’re on a fairly steady course.
But I gotta say it’s hard to stay motivated when you feel written off because you ski in college, you can’t make it to a world cup, or there’s no support for training your ass off.
Thanks Jon for a refreshingly honest look at our system.
June 10, 2009 at 2:42 pm
In our club we’ve been looking at what junior swim programs are doing. U.S. swimming programs produce many Olympic medals and the US Swim team is always one of the top teams in the world. It seems like swimming is a great place to look for good ideas because 1) It’s a technique and fitness sport like skiing 2) There is not professional level swimming in the U.S. just like xc skiing (i.e. it’s a relatively obscure competitive sport) 3) they achieve success in an American environment. Looking at foreign ski programs is useful (and we look closely at the German program), but often their solutions just won’t cut it in the U.S. due to cultural differences.
Swimmers at the J2 age group are putting in 600+ hours/year of training. I’m NOT suggesting that our J2 skiers should be doing that many hours. But, it does show that there are thousands of 14 and 15 year old athletes who are willing to dedicate themselves to a sport. There are professionally coached club programs all over the country that pull in thousands of junior athletes. The base of their pyramid is huge compared to xc skiing. From that huge base they can find the rare athlete who is capable and willing to compete at the elite level.
Whatever problems the USST may have, I think they mostly suffer from a lack of talent coming up from the junior ranks. I think we need many more junior club programs with many more participants who are training harder and we need to give those kids professional coaching.
Clearly the USST performs well below where you would expect given the number of xc skiers in the U.S. How can we develop a large number of first-rate clubs in the U.S. to increase the number of well-trained junior skiers that we need to improve our national team results?
Head Coach, CSU junior ski team
June 10, 2009 at 3:27 pm
Kevin is dead on, and his argument brings us back to John’s suggestion. If the problem is systemic, we need to look to other systems for ideas. On the other hand, in the end whatever new system is adopted needs to fit the particulars of our culture and make use of our current strengths and structures. The USST has implicitly adopted a document created in 2005 by the Canadian government as a framework for all sports. They call it Long Term Athlete Development and it is the result of exactly the kind of comparative research John calls for (although it does not target precisely those programs he mentions – unless you include Canada as a recent success story). It is also explicitly an attempt to tailor a sports system to fit Canada’s culture and existing sports structure. You can download the LTAD Resource Paper from the USSA web site.
Whether or not it is something that could be adopted wholesale in this country (and it does not seem that the USST is actually attempting to do much more than borrow a bit of the developmental terminology developed in the LTAD paper), it does offer another useful tool for evaluating our sports system – it attempts to see sport from the larger context of social development. It breaks the social structures responsible for sports down into three major groups of institutions – schools, recreational sports organizations, and competitive sports organizations, and argues for each to be developed separately but with an awareness of how they can and should interact. The goal of all of this is to develop a culture of “physical literacy” within which gold-medal-winning athletes can develop and the general populace can pursue an active, healthy lifestyle from birth to old age. I would add to this trio of sports organizational types the professional institutions – sports industries (resorts and equipment manufacturers, for example), coaches, and sports scientists.
Armed with this analytical tool, what can we discover about cross-country skiing in the US? I’m in the process of putting together a lecture on this topic and will post it when I’ve got the whole thing together. In the meantime, part of my conclusion is that clubs have disappeared from the equation in this country. The impact of club systems can be seen from the development of the triathlon. In the early days, the traithlon was a quintessentially American sport (although the Australians would protest) in that it was dominated by extremists – talented individuals going it alone. But, as it became internationally recognized, it fell prey to the European club systems. Clubs in Europe domesticated the triathlon – they developed athletes in the same patient, integrated way they do in so many other minor sports. Fairly soon they were dominating international competition.
Some points from the conclusion of my argument:
If continuing recreational involvement is the end goal for the largest part of the public, recreational clubs need to be the backbone of an integrated system of development. School programs need to provide basic skills and fitness and help young people make choices about sports to pursue through club systems. Competitive programs need to be able to draw talent from a large pool of recreational skiers. Club involvement also needs to be broader than sports participation. Clubs need to be central to the development of coaches, facilities, and social support for skiers.
Among other things, this approach sees high school and college level skiing as counter-productive – while obviously better than no programming at all, they segregate younger skiiers from the broad skiing culture, deprive them of interaction with experienced skiers and inhibit the development of social connections that inspire community support.
A club approach (as opposed to a country club one) also speaks to the main barriers to participation in our sport – availability of equipment and access to facilities. Clubs need to take back control of the trails and bring back the practice of pooling club-owned equipment. This is not a nostalgic call to return to the days of the log cabin clubhouse and hand-cut trails, it is simply a recognition of what went out with the bathwater when big resorts and public intitutions took over our trails and meeting places.
Looking forward to more discussion!
June 10, 2009 at 3:30 pm
Looks like Rob beat me to the punch. That’s what I get for being so long-winded.
June 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm
I find it really hard to be critical of the people involved in skiing because for the most part, with few exceptions, the people really into skiing believe what they are doing is what’s best for the sport. With all due respect to everyone, in reality well meaning individuals can confuse what is best for the sport with what is best for their own personal agendas within the sport. This is true whether it be skiing or anything else in life. As with anything else, we could go a long way towards improving things by simply applying some common sense. Here are some things in skiing that make no sense to me. I apologize in advance If I offend anyone, that is not my intention. My intention is to make people think.
1). Why do the women and men ski different distances? I have heard it argued that most women are too smart to want to race 50K. I’m old enough to remember the “experts” didn’t think women could run a marathon. I snickered last year at an article here in Faster Skier where athletes and coaches were complaining about the strategies of the mass start leading to undeserving winners. Have they not heard of wave starts?
2). Why not 5, 10, 15, 30, & 50K Classic and Freestyle events for both men and women in the Nationals, Olympics, and World Championships? Sprints of each discipline as well. Hasn’t anyone heard of Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps?
3). Why does Biathlon involve skating only? If these athletes were called to active duty would they skate thru the deep snow or would a tank equipped with a tiller or Yellowstone lead them into battle?
4). Why does your average road race cost $5-$15 and most times all participants get satisfaction of accomplishment, a T-shirt and tons of post race refreshments? Yet your average ski race costs $30-$80 (even more if your not a NENSA member)? In races to numerous to remember I only remember once receiving a t-shirt at a ski race once that was included in the entry fee. The entry fee was $5. Participation was the intent of the event., not making the most money possible for the host or sanctioning body.
5). Why are Eastern Cup Races geared towards the private schools and the handful of college development programs? Isn’t it a bit much to be asking our public school athletes to race for their school teams during the week and then expect them to compete on even footing with the privates or college freshmen for a spot on the Jr. Olympic Team? Or worse yet, be forced on the weekend to choose between skiing for the team that supports them or for a spot on the J.O. team for themselves. Would equal footing diminish the need for ski programs at private schools?
6). Why do private schools only recruit kids at the sharp end of the Public School talent pool? Since they consider themselves to be “ski schools” wouldn’t it be more productive to reach into their own student bodies and teach those students to ski instead of cherry picking other programs? I’m sure they have plenty of kids who come from a region of the country that doesn’t have snow and some of them might enjoy learning to ski, aka the Hyde School, a shameless shout out to Stu Goldberg!
7). Why aren’t more College athletes earning a degree in education, then relocating to anywhere in Podunck USA where there is snow and starting a program from scratch? Even many established programs are in need of coaches.
8). Why does Alaska get to stand alone as an entity within USSA whilst New England is beholding to NENSA? I’m sure individually Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have as many skiers per capita as Alaska. Why can’t each New England State select their own teams for national competitions? What does it say about the process when most State Champions don’t get the opportunity to represent their state or region in national competitions? And if they do overcome the obstacles and qualify for the New England Team, they then need to join USSA in order to compete at Nationals. If USSA and NENSA were serious about increasing participation they would make memberships valid for a year from date of purchase rather than season to season. Then maybe those kids forced to join NENSA in order to compete in the Eastern High School Championships would maybe test the waters at an Eastern Cup the following season. (I read this proposal in the spring meeting minutes, I’ve said this for years. MAKE IT HAPPEN!) 24 kids/gender/state is a thinly disguised fund raiser for the organization. Raising money was not the original intent of the Eastern High School Championships. I remember the first ones at the OTC in Lake Placid. For several years $35 covered everything except transportation, coaching, and wax. Most coaches then were happy to supply transportation and wax. No one was required to be a member.
9). Why not have the Eastern High School Championships before the Junior Olympics and choose the J.O. team from those results? The level of athlete in the Eastern High School Championships most likely would improve if success at the Eastern High School Championships led to the next level.
10). Being a granola kind of sport, why are we allowing the use of waxes that are detrimental to both the environment and our health? Have fluorocarbons improved the sport or made it more attainable. All wax is equal in a foot race. Lets at least put the “classic” back in classical. (Wood bases on skis and naturally based waxes only). Not being much of a chemist I’m not sure the latter is possible.
Again, all apologies to anyone I may have offended. These are just a few musings from a tired old racer/coach who has finally come to the understand the true meaning of insanity, “Continuing to do the same old things the same old way and all the while expecting different results.”
Keep stirring the pot John!
June 10, 2009 at 6:58 pm
I agree with many of the points made, but what about this, in many of the very successful European cross country ski programs, they have some of the top athletes from those countries. Here in the US our top endurance athletes are basketball players, track runners, or just about any sport BUT cross country skiing. Once you have to make a decision post high school for one sport, cross country skiing is almost certainly going to become a back seat for anyone who wants to and can continue to compete. Just my 2 cents.
June 10, 2009 at 7:40 pm
Just a short response to weigh in here. I think the points made about “Ski Schools” are critical. I skied for a public school throughout all four years of High School. In my senior year my friends and I raced in Eastern Cups and HS races alike. I was lucky enough to have a coach that supported my wanting to race Eastern Cups on certain weekends, but It took a lot of effort (driving and lodging ourselves, waxing in hotel basements and garages, paying for entrance fees) and a lot of planning. I couldn’t see it working out for a large group. Despite the difficulties we made it work out, and the experience was well worth it. Jmeserve brought up the cost of this type of thing, and along with time and commitment, it’s a big factor in increasing the gap between HS and Ski Schools. I’ve known racers who opted out of a 10k Eastern Cup early in the season for fear of “overdoing it” before the State Meet in February, and had friends back out of NENSA races from the cost. $40 for a sprint race? That’s about $20 per-minute of race time if you don’t make the heats. While there are certainly athletes who ski in High School and then stop, there is also plenty of talent in the public HS ranks that goes unnoticed or un-trained. Ski schools can cater to those willing to fork out thousands per-year for great coaching, training and support, but like many above have said, there is little other option for junior development. I think there might be plenty of talented skiers out there in the J2/HS age range that aren’t getting noticed because they spend their time racing 5k’s every weekend instead of higher-profile races. Eastern Cups and bigger races aren’t even considered by some of these skiers. I think we need to mix it up. Club skiing would be a great way to introduce more skiers to higher competition (there’s no qualification criteria to ski in an Eastern Cup) and in turn support higher quality, increased, motivated training. The thing about club skiing that’s promising is that it shouldn’t have to cost nearly as much as some Ski Schools. Hopefully club skiing would also offer some sort of cooperation between public schools and their race schedules as well. A pretty long answer for just a small bit of this discussion, but a big area I think we need to focus on.
June 10, 2009 at 10:14 pm
So some interesting research from Germany describes the age at which athletes enter sport schools and the performance level those athletes achieve. The short version says that early entry to sport schools results in lower performance and almost no chance of making the international level. Entry to sport schools around age 15 has a very strong relationship with future success at the international levels. This data is coming from one of the most developed and structured sport programs in the World. The researcher didn’t have any concrete reasons for the relationship but one possible reason may be that early talent ID is not effective until athletes reach a certain age (high school, 14-18)
Some other interesting info from other countries is the focus that skiers have once they reach an international level (National Team level). Very few skiers in Europe are attending university or other schooling, they are mostly training full time at training centre’s or major clubs. The USST has made this same statement as well as the Canadian NST, skiers that want to succed at the international level need to committ full time to that goal.
I firmly believe in the comments regarding the role of the club. This is critical to the development of great skiers. I think that often times the high school and college programs have focuses that are not in the best interests of the long term development of the athletes due to other factors that take priority (not all schools of course, but in general). Skiers should be attending the races that make the most sense for their development not the ones they need to attend in order to maintain a schoolarship or win a high school trophy. This is a problem in many NCAA programs in all sports, athletes race sick and injured and often times much more than needed in order to score points for the team and maintain a scholarship. Most countries base the development system on clubs with sport schools and training centres coming into play at a later age. Canada has virtually no high school or college/university programs and all development is taken only the club programs whereas the US system is more based around high school and college programs (not saying one is right or wrong, just two different directions)
To John, it is called the ‘Nations Cup’ and the USA were 14th – 708 (Norway 1 – 9334, Finland 2 – 6675, Italy 3 – 6413) Canada was 11th – 1640 (http://www.fis-ski.com/pdf/2009/CC/3460/2009CC3460NCS.pdf)
Thanks John for putting your views out there, hope it brings some more good discussion.
June 10, 2009 at 11:05 pm
Like cutts, I feel a bit written off the way everyone attributes the problems to USST’s success to the lack of effort juniors put into skiing, and that all of us are never going to be good anyway because all the “real” American athletes go into sports like hockey, football and running, especially when you’re not even at the top of your game in skiing. The expense of skiing is our nation’s biggest problem right now as this is what seperates us from the European countries. Everything do with skiing in many of those European is completely free. Let alone race fees, touring center tickets and club fees, but even skis and equipment is sometimes bought for the kids by the government-supported clubs. Living in the capitalist nation of the world, our government does not adequately fund XC skiing the way socialist Sweden and Germany do. This is why a weekend of Eastern Cups costs yourself upwards of $60-$70, plus wax, lodging, travel and food (I find this to be a HUGE problem with having JN’s in Presque Isle next year), it is not NENSA’s or anyone specific person’s or organization’s fault, it is just the way non-recreational (ie, non school or town supported) sports are run in this country, and our only way to cut costs down is transfer Eastern Cups into public high school racing, or get the high school teams to pay for bussing and race entry fees to Eastern Cups.
Being a public high ski racer I find myself at a huge disadvantage from a ski-school (SMS, GMVS, BMA) skier, because:
1.) The kids at these school’s barely go to school compared to a kid taking honors courses at a public high school. A friend of mine doing a PG year at a ski school told me how academically the school didn’t come close to his previous high school, especially in the winter, when classes are built around skiing. This enables the kids more time to train.
2.) There are no sport conflicts at a ski school. Not only do I have to race in all my high school races for my hs coach (and then be tired out for the EC’s) but also I got myself into the trap of running XC in the fall, and now with such a good XC team I don’t want to blow my friends off and just train for skiing during running season.
June 10, 2009 at 11:32 pm
Some interesting points brought up from this discussion. I agree with many of the statements and also think that there are other developmental aspects of racing/training/preparation in the U.S. that are lacking…Here are ideas that come to mind (some coinciding with what was previously mentioned):
1) College skiing provides some of the best funding for skiers looking to continue racing currently in the U.S. (ex. many sponsored teams dropped, no real funding from USST, not many structured post high-school programs). There are not many differences between training “full-time” and being in school besides a few late nights and a little fun!
2) Women should be racing the same distances as men. This is ancient not adopting a system where skiers race equivalent distances. Look at swimming, triathlon, running, + many other sports. What’s the deal?!
3) Sprinting should be incorporated into NCAA skiing to help better prepare the skiers in college. How can this particular circuit ignore sprinting when it is one of the most important aspects in WC racing?
4) Ski races should try something new (as mentioned, doing the wave-starts). Changing the format of the races will only add an extra element of surprise for the competitors and fans. This will make people more excited and would definitely raise the interest of people potentially looking to get involved. The youth have to find something appealing about Nordic skiing before they are willing to devote so much time towards it. It was great to see FIS adapt some of the ideas implemented in cycling, and start to integrate those ideas into ski racing (ex. Tour de Ski).
6) Are we “ALL IN” or “ALL OUT” ?! Thanks USST for making the U.S. the laughing-stock of the world. We need something new that makes the US appear fierce and coordinated, not stupid and confused.
How can we hope to progress as a nation if there is no clear direction or agreement from various groups within the U.S. skiing community on what needs to be done to achieve certain goals in the future…?
June 11, 2009 at 2:17 am
A couple of points to make:
I am sorry that Trecker’s experience with junior skiers has resulted in his feeling that “(t)he truth is the kids are NOT doing the prescribed training. They spend their time dodging their coaches and doing any and everything they can think of besides the training.” I’ve been coaching juniors for quite some time now, and I’m more impressed now than I ever have been with the work and commitment to training that these young people have done and shown. At the same time, many of these individuals have (gasp) lives and aspirations outside of skiing, and they have many interests. The amount of dedication that they are able to give to the sport is truly impressive when taking into account the amount of time they are spending getting ridiculously high grades and being accepted into schools like Dartmouth, Middlebury and Harvard. Some of these individuals have chosen to focus on their skiing and pursue greatness in that arena, and that has meant that they have had to make many sacrifices, as you would expect. It is an insult to these young people to say that they spend their time dodging coaches and slipping workouts. I bet if you talked to a Norwegian or Finnish or Italian coach, they’d say the same thing.
It is true that many juniors think they are giving a lot more effort than they really are. Realization of that is something that hopefully comes with maturity, and is something that a coach sometimes needs to make them aware of. Having coached the three J1 boys that made up the top US relay team at the Scando cup this past year, (Scott Patterson, Andrew Dougherty and Tyler Kornfield) which placed third in the field of top Scandinavian J1s, I think I can say that they have proven that they are doing the work they need to do, which will set them up for success at the senior level, should they choose to pursue it. Come and watch these guys or Max and LexTreinen train (Lex=2nd place at 2009 NCAA 20km at 19, true freshman, Max 5th), or David Norris, or 4 time gold medalist Logan Hanneman(and all of you other animals out there) and I think you’ll see that they’re doing the work. Not much coach dodging going on there. And ewhile acknowledging that while juniors do dodge workouts, at least they’re outside and in the fresh air much of the time instead of sitting in front of the computer, as a master competitor commented to me today. If they’re not interested in working hard in the first place, then they’re probably not the one’s we want to talk about here anyway. At the end of the day, you can’t make them do something that they don’t want to do. Lead, do some prodding when necessary, but if you’ve got to force them, they don’t have what it takes to make that top step anyway, which is ok as well.
Having coached both high school and club teams, I see the ability for the two to coexist. It sounds like the East has an even more difficult time of it than we do in AK. We try to work together to make sure that the two circuits (CCAK and high school racing) don’t step on each other’s toes too much, and most of the top racers in the state compete for both club and school. Not all do, for one reason or another, and that is fine. Many of the kids that do high school s
Mr. Caldwell, I was disappointed by your implication that because the USST didn’t adopt your ideas , that was why they are still doing poorly internationally. So, we’re to expect the coaching staff to go around adopting every armchair, Monday morning quarterback suggestion? We’d be back where we were a few years ago when the previous coaches were just copying the new Norwegian “intensity block” system (which is mostly spectacular at blowing up skiers at an alarming rate, especially when used at altitude). Hahah. I believe that the coaches have a plan and are trying to implement it to the best that they can. Removing collegiate skiers from the US Ski team is actually a fairly reasonable step, as they have a support system in place, and if the coach knows his/her stuff, then they should be able to progress, much as American collegiate swimmers seem to be able to do.
Regarding looking at the emerging countries that are putting up results recently: yes, by all means let’s do what the Bulgarians and Austrians are doing, they seem to have really figured out how to get some results.
One more thing: Trecker, what did you mean by “country club sport”?
June 11, 2009 at 5:33 am
Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. It is especially good to see athletes participating. It is important to have the perspective of those who these issues most effect!
I would like to clarify a few things. First of all, in response to both Kevin and Paco, I don’t think you should view this as a personal attack on your efforts or training – though I understand where you are coming from. My understanding is that we are discussing the issue of junior training in general. As both of you, and Ben pointed out, there are definitely many juniors putting in the work necessary to be successful. This is excellent. The issue is that there aren’t enough. The idea is that in order to consistently compete at the highest level, the US needs a large base of well-prepared junior athletes to feed into the the senior elite programs, including the USST. We have good participation numbers, but not enough of these skiers are doing the training that will prepare them for the next step. It isn’t enough to have a dozen, or even 50 juniors getting it done. We need hundreds. So as Ben makes clear, we have some incredible young skiers who shuold be recognized for their efforts. But we still need to address the general issue of the numbers. And I agree with Kevin that this is more of a coaching issue than an athlete issue. Why do junior skiers think they are doing more than they are? No one is telling them what they should be doing. There are steps being taken to address this (USSA Coaches Education, NENSA Coaches Education, etc) but it is a process.
In regards to the college issue, no one is saying that collegiate skiers can’t be on the US Ski Team. I asked Pete Vordenberg this explicitly. The team went through their annual evaluation process and selected their nominees. It was only then that they realized that the group being removed from the Team included all the collegiate skiers. According to Pete, these athletes were unable to meet the commitments and make the progress required to be on the Team. This was not an “all college skiers are done” type of decision. Secondly, the USST is merely recommending that athletes looking to reach the highest level pursue this goal for several years before going to college. Unless I am misinterpreting, this is not a requirement to be on the Team. Pete also pointed out that the USST is a Team. As in the past, athletes can qualify for the Olympics, World Championships, etc and not be on the team. Many of these athletes are regular participants at USST camps with coaching support from the Team. Going to college does not mean you can’t be a champion. The USST is just saying that they believe the best route to the top is to postpone college. I’m sure they would be thrilled to be proven otherwise, and I’m sure that someone will do just that. And there were always be skiers like Justin Freeman who do not show the promise as a junior to justify postponing college. There are many excellent college coaches who can provide athletes with the guidance they need to excel. It would be great to have some more clarification from the USST coaches on this to be sure their ideas are being accurately represented.
In response to crashtestxc:
EISA (eastern collegiate) has sprint races. It is difficult to add them to NCAA championships as they need to kepe the number of Nordic events in line with alpine. Ski races are regularly trying new things. This starts at the top with the World Cup. The list is long – skating, sprints, more mass starts, multi day events, intermediate sprints, ski switching.
June 11, 2009 at 10:50 am
The US has normally produced juniors that race well among international junior fields. The issue is not how well the US kids race as juniors but rather how well those juniors make the shift to senior level racing. The thoughtful and steady increase in volume to make a successful senior racer requires an emphasis on training rather than race results throughout the junior years.
I believe there are many hard working juniors capable of becoming strong skiers but the ski community might consider reducing the importance of junior racing and refine the methods of developing fitter seniors. More volume and carefully monitored intensity are the likely fix.
June 11, 2009 at 11:21 am
Right on Eastman.
Ben: Country Club Sport = You gotta have money and join a club to be successful.
XC skiing boomed in the 70’s as a cheaper alternative to alpine skiing and other costly adventures. Now I don’t know which sport is more expensive and there are certainly other more accessible sports like running and cycling that aren’t nearly as cost prohibitive.
American junior cyclists are crushing in Europe, not just contending, but winning. At least 5 different U23s have big wins this spring with vitually no grass roots, organized, pipeline whatsoever. The junior cycling develpment structure in the U.S. has crumbled over the last 15 years as the results steadily improved. Not nearly as organized as XC but with much more success. Why? Inspiration and perspiration. The kids themselves really, really want it and they see a future in front of them.
American junior nords aren’t burning out as a JII, that’s ridiculous. They are just sick of beating their heads against the wall for a sport that has virtually no future for them while the rest of their lives passes them by. They see no point in continuing, mental burnout maybe. Even the most successful of all time, Bill Koch, Kikkan Randall, Carl Swenson, Kris Freeman, are marginalized and anonymous as far as American culture is concerned.
As far as our best athletes? Noah Hoffman, Simi Hamilton, Glen Randall, 3 of the top young endurance talents I’ve ever seen that I know could have been great cyclists or runners, chose skiing. Tad Elliott quit skiing to be a pro mountain biker and then came back. Skiing in and of itself is attractive, addictive and fun. However, the future of the athlete is in doubt and the kids know this. What will Kris Freeman have when he’s all done? Some memories and medals and great friendships and that’s about it.
This is why the JIIs have to hit it hard. They and their parents need more clarity by the time they’re leaving the nest. They need to KNOW they’re good, WITHOUT HOPE.
June 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm
John: Thanks (once again) for opening a great discussion. Excellent comments, in my opinion, by all who’ve posted. Keep them coming. Thanks to Fasterskier for the open forum of ideas.
June 11, 2009 at 5:00 pm
Skiing success= teacher salary and no education to fall back on.
Skiing might be more expensive than we would like it to be but to call it cost prohibitive to cycling or alpine skiing where a starting race bike is a couple thousand is just silly.
Skiing is not a profession sport over here. Some programs and athletes treat it as such but that number is pretty small. There isn’t the money to do so. Other that some college coaches is anyone making over $100k? Seriously, anyone? How many runners, cylists triathletes and their coaches?
Most people have to struggle when they are starting out but will the best talents and minds put the ridiculous amount of time and effort skiing requires into something with minimal payoff?
June 11, 2009 at 10:19 pm
I don’t think anyone except the very top layer of WC athletes is getting rich from XC skiing anywhere. They ARE getting their way paid for them (by their clubs initially – remember, we’re talking about a level of fitness which takes years to develop and in which the best athletes are often in their late twenties and early thirties) and they have some hope of a career in their sport because there are well-established and funded clubs and recreational programs.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I think that a lot of the specific issues people are bringing up could be addressed by the development of clubs. But, rather than develop clubs and HELP them to do the bulk of the athlete development work, the USST/USSA and many regional governing bodies are attempting to BE clubs. What is the USST or CXC but a super-elite club? The “club” scoring at national competitions is a farce. CXC elite team as a club? NENSA’s vision statement is a breath of fresh air:
“The primary goal of the New England Nordic Ski Association is to create an environment that promotes the athletic development of New England cross-country skiers, supports skiing organizations, and encourages the growth of the sport of cross-country skiing. NENSA’s long-term programs assist the individuals and the organizations that deliver services, in line with NENSA’s Mission, to the cross-country skiing community. In cases where structures do not exist to deliver necessary services, NENSA may elect to initiate events or services to stimulate desired development. NENSA staff or NENSA-based committees may take on the short-term responsibilities of delivering such services, but it is not the responsibility of NENSA to be a primary service provider for ongoing services, nor should significant portions of the NENSA budget be allocated to provide services that can be delivered by other organizations such as clubs, schools, and cross-country ski centers.”
On a side note, we would all be less grumpy if we had a nice bar at our local ski club where we could let off steam about some of this stuff.
June 12, 2009 at 11:28 am
A Critique of John’s Facts
is there a catch-22- set up? No
do most if not all European countries name their national teams off world cup results? Yes
Does the US Ski Team start non-US team members in world cups? Yes
If making the US Ski Team depends on US Results in World Cups shouldn’t racers take the opportunity of North American World cups to prove themselves and make the team? Yes
How many chances is that per year? 4 races
How many do other countries like Norway get? probably around 12 (combined men’s and women’s races)
Should we lay around and complain about the cards we’re delt? No
Should we try hard to prove the rest of the world wrong and show them that we can do it? Yes
Has the current US Ski team been doing that? Yes
Has the US ski team been on a steady increase in performance and increasing their overall world cup points earned over the season for the past 15 year? Yes
Are they there yet? No
Are they on the right track? Yes
Is Vordenberg and company cleaning up the mess that John and previous USST administrations have left behind by not having a proper development pipeline? Yes
Is there proper education and a pipeline in place now? Yes
Will it work? too early to tell. it takes time.
Is John 30 years out of touch with our sport? Yes
June 12, 2009 at 3:06 pm
First off I just have to start out saying that it drives me nuts when people post on message boards and are too afraid to put down their actual name. It’s great that you have an opinion ,and you should share it and are free to disagree with others, but have the balls to back it up with an actual name. I really think that it should be a requirement to leave your actual name at the end of post.
To stay on topic though, I have to agree Rob Bradlee on the U.S. swimming model. I understand that there is much less equipment cost for swimming but there is a fee for pool time. The fact that the U.S. really only cares about swimming every four years is something similar to the skiing. I think that if we racked up medals in XC skiing like we do in swimming there would be a much greater interest.
Also like skiing there isn’t a lot of money in swimming. The very top athletes are doing well but the others are not wealthy by any means.
Why is swimming able to use college as a development pipeline when skiing is not able at the same level. Maybe there is a real solution for college skiing by looking more closely at the swimming model. One thing that doesn’t hurt is that college swimming is a much bigger sport than skiing. That may be the simple answer right there.
As far as junior training goes, I remember being in swimming from the age 9 to 13 years old. Most of the kids that I swam with that were at all serious were swimming 5 days a week with meets on the weekends. This started at 9! I don’t think that there is nearly the same level of training going on with most young skiers.
June 12, 2009 at 3:08 pm
Next time I may want to take the time to proofread my posts . 🙂
June 12, 2009 at 6:14 pm
Lots of good posts here. JC, Jeff M and Mike T – great points. RTSkier – get a life.
Lots of posts decry the increased cost of xc skiing as a barrier to building a bigger base of the talent pyramid. This is very true. But it is a fact that I think many folks in the xc skiing community either don’t understand or choose to ignore. When parents of modest means catch wind of what the sport of xc will cost, they steer their kids to other activities. I’ve witnessed this a lot. So yes … cost makes xc skiing a country club sport. If you don’t have enough money to join the club, you don’t ski race.
Ironically, it seems that expense of sports does not necessarily determine that the success the US has. If a sport is expensive in the US, it is also equally expensive in other countries where the sport is not government subsidized. Alpine skiing and cycling are super-expensive, and the US does well internationally in these sports.
On the flip side, if a sport is cheap – then many people in the world can play the game. And in these cases the US usually gets its ass kicked: distance running, soccer. So unfortunately … it may be in the interest of US results to keep xc skiing a country club sport. But the real cost of this path will be a detriment of participation in the sport in the long haul,
Personally, the expense of xc ski racing these days miffs me. Skiing has been a huge and fun part of my life. But if I were presently a kid in the family I grew up in I probably could not afford to ski today. That saddens me, because I know lots of kids today will never have the chance I had to make xc skiing a focal part of their lives.
June 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm
I’m not sure modeling xc after swimming is the correct approach, for a couple of reasons.:
1. The participation base is exponentially larger for swimming than that of xc skiing. Think of all the states in the country where skiing isn’t even a possibility. There are only a small handful of states that can reasonably expect to produce xc skiers.
2. Swimmers develop much faster than skiers. Many swimmers make World & Olympic teams while in college, or very shortly thereafter. A skier probably has several more years of consistent training to reach their maximum after college.
June 13, 2009 at 7:42 am
Yeah swimming is definitely more accessable than skiing.
I know that for many skiers they need more time to develop but that isn’t neccesarily the case for all of them.
What they are doing though is maintaining a larger base of athletes that continue on after high school, putting in more training as juniors, drawing better support, and having more success.
Most swim races are really just a sprint but that is somewhat like ski sprinting in that you have several qualifiers to get to the finals.
Anyways, swimming is not the perfect analogy to skiing but I think there are definitely things going on there that could be modeled in skiing.
Tim, the cost factor is a sad thing. I know that in MN many high school ski teams are good about getting equipment such as rollerskis and skis that the kids can use in the winter in order to make it more accessable. The tough thing is that anyone who really wants to get serious about the sport is going to have to drop some serious dough. Hopefully by having equipment that can be borrowed to kids they can judge their interest level before making a large financial commitment.
June 13, 2009 at 1:48 pm
The cash issue is a huge deal here in the US, as touring centers can be absurdly expensive to buy a pass and rent equipment. Like most of the juniors/athletes involved at the elite level of skiing, i am blessed to have parents who sacrifice just about everything to see me succeed and to do what it takes to get me to that next level, but many kids are not in my position and don’t have that resource to aid them.
On a trip to sweden a few years back i was blown away at how even at 7:00 am midweek there were hundreds of K’s groomed in the mountains and it was completely free to go for a ski.
And until prices go down or equipment becomes more readily available… XC skiing isn’t gonna take off with the masses.
One idea i had came from a group of New Zealand Cyclists who wanted to build a set of publicly accessible trails that would be maintained and free of charge for those who wanted to use them. What the cyclists’ did, was they got the community involved, and set up various trust funds and such to financially back the whole project, and got the community behind it, and so far the project has completely blown up and is huge now.
Why can’t we get the wheels turning and get our communities behind skiing? Why can’t we get Local businesses to donate to the club systems? why can’t the clubs be proactive and find sponsors to help with the costs of wax/equipment/travel fees?
i know it sounds like a grand idea, but it’s about the only way it’s gonna work unless somehow the USST gets a major corporate sponsor purely for XC, which has basically a snowballs chance in hell.. any thoughts on this would be appreciated
June 13, 2009 at 6:40 pm
Why is the solotion so difficult for somr numb-skulls to grasp? Very simple really….
Great comments and insights from JC.
My opinon, all supporting memebers should vote upon a goal/standard to be reached via racer results by a certian date. This would be your “NGB standard”. If they do not reach that goal by that date, change leaadership or structure….same as in any business model. For skiers, set a standard (“% behind” ) for all atheletes seeking NGB support and professional status, and if they do not meet these standards by age 25 or after 3 years “on tour”, they are wasting time and money.
Bottom line, we should place several skiers in top 30 in distance races by a certian date or change how the program is run, who runs it, and how it is funded and implemented. You have to find and keep tha rare genetic freaks who can ski at amazing levels or you are wating money and time!
June 13, 2009 at 10:37 pm
There you go Evan, my real name is not Amos, does that help?
From a micro perspective, two main problems: podiums and doping.
1)The women should be not only be doing the same distances -they should be doing the same races. The sexism must stop now. Let ’em in you chickenshats. I feel like I’m in the 50’s with the Negro leagues.
Wink, wink , all these divisions just acknowledge disabilities – have a real race circuit and for the rest that want to hide in the juniors, U23, women, masters, 250+ lbs, alcoholic, etc divisions – you should be put under the umbrella of the special Olympics. Take care of all them there. The podium thing is so old, ubiquitous, and boring. And corporate.
2) Anybody tired of the doping, yet. Who’s doing it? Are you sure? You sure we got em all? No, but you’ll trash the 4th amendment trying to find out. And even then, why do you trust the coppers? You think they can’t be bought? Ya tink bout a certain LA? Too big to fail? Hmmm? “Ohhhmy sphincter is puckered, my eyes are narrowed, my teeth are gritted – dam dopers!”
All I know is that everbody that beat me be dopin. Everbod behind shud a been dopen. There you go, I am tranquil. Try it yourself. Doping is hilarious. And there is so much going on…
What is Cera-F but chemical doping? What are Fischer World Cups but mechanical doping? What is being on the Norwegian ski team but cultural doping? What is being Alex Harvey but genetic doping?
What is being a New England trust-funded skier but economic doping?(tee-hee)
Want more? Psychological, environmental, political, uh?
That’s all I got for now. Part twos and threes (like JC) be coming.
June 13, 2009 at 10:47 pm
I have never been on a site where the admin. (“FasterSkier”) particpates in the discussion. This is, on all levels, lame.
Is this Nate Schultz writing? Let the peeps speak or close the discussion and let USSA/Ski Racing handle all. Gary Black loves to stroke Tom Kelly’s and Bill Marolt’s “stuff”, they do not need help from people who only care about U.S. X.C. sucess.
June 14, 2009 at 12:34 am
Ok AnonAmos, what in the world are you talking about?? Do you have any sort of point at all?
“The podium thing is so old”…. What in the world is that supposed to mean? The “podium thing” is so old because its a legitimate way to acknowledge who is fast and who isnt.
And your “doping” paragraph is nonsense.
June 14, 2009 at 10:27 am
Now it sounds like the Jim Rome show and the “clones”. AnonAmos comes with the heat and I like it. Sport has become ridiculous just like his/her post. I don’t think Natron is representing FS or Vordy/USST but I imagine he’s not very far from Amos. I have heard some extreme points of view before and this just seems to be making a point, if you don’t get it you don’t get it.
How bout some solutions:
1. Reduce cost and travel by scrapping Senior Nationals in the middle of the season and merging them into Junior Nationals in the Spring. One really big, national meet per year with everybody. Bring in the Masters also. Too much seperation in this country. Teams could be picked just using the FIS/USSA points as they do anyway. Sure the junior selection would become a little different but if they need to chase points later anyway they may as well get used to it. This move would also free the U.S. to participate fully in the Tour de Ski which is quickly becoming a really big deal.
2. Merge the regional JOQs into the largest citizen/masters events to bring about more people together more often rather than seperating us all the time. Plenty of old folks would love to watch the junior races and the juniors would perhaps not view themselves as really “good” when they are getting beaten by some seniors week in and week out.
Cut costs and increase performance.
June 14, 2009 at 11:48 am
Ok. My turn to bat. As always, there are some very amusing posts. Some that make sense and some that don’t. I would have to agree 110% with Kevin. I think racing now and having experienced all that encompasses success in nordic skiing in today’s ‘era’ would be more sufficient to having a reasonable discussion than what i would call an average joe: one of those people who have started skiing later in life, no experience in nordic skiing, no coaching experience, just a big ego and not knowing what to do with themselves. It seems to me like there are too many people like that in the US. God bless their hearts, they have the enthusiasm but they don’t have a clue. What we need in US nordic skiing is education and experience. Local clubs are what brings these skiers up the ‘pipeline,’ and these club coaches know the skiers best and what is best for them. It takes time to develop a strong x-c skier (sorry if i sound like a broken record). Talent alone won’t help you there, training 900 hours, interval work in april and may, won’t help you there. Patience, knowledge, motivation and the right personality will. I applaud Pete Vordenberg for what he has done with the team the last couple of seasons: yes we should be looking for medals, but it takes some time. Maybe a year, two or ten, not overnight. Local clubs are what helped brought Kikkan Randall and Andrew Newell to world cup medals. Regarding college and taking time off, not sure if that is a good idea. What will happen later? You are gonna have to actually ‘work’ when you are done skiing. What if in that year or two the athlete does not meet his/her/coaches expectations? That could be demoralizing, and it could leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Loss of motivation, loss of time perhaps could be bad news in the future for those athletes. I say go to schoo, organize your schedule around studies and skiing and go on from there. Hard? Yes. But nobody said it would be easy. I believe that studying and skiing at the same time could offset the pressures both of these things bring, mentally this is a great thing. If you organize yourself well, you’ll have time to be with friends, family travel, etc. In my opinion you can become dull if you just wake up, eat, train, eat, rest, train, etc. Many people think that that is the only thing Europeans do, but it is far from it. Yes many of them don’t go to college (not nearly as many people there go to college anyway), yes many of them are ‘professionals’ but they keep themselves busy with other things. We also need good leadership in nordic skiing in this country. It seems like a communist regime somewhat, some people have been involved in the ‘hierarchy’ for 20+ years and haven’t done diddly poo, and now we are talking about developments, pipeline and what not? Where were these ideas 5, 10, 20 years ago? A country of 300 million cannot produce a full women’s team? That’s just down right scary. Please don’t tell me about the culture and how nobody cares about skiing (we have baseball, bball), etc…. Germany and Russia also have millions of skiers and they seem to bring up skiers every year, and those countries have a plethora of other ‘popular sports.’ We might not be a ‘typical’ nordic ski country, but there is no reason we shouldn’t be, right now.
And don’t get me started about money….
June 14, 2009 at 11:58 am
Sorry for no paragraph breaks, but getting the idea out there is what is most important. Props to John Caldwell for his posts and his ideas, that is exactly what we need in this sport in our country.
June 14, 2009 at 1:08 pm
Thanks AnonAmos I feel better now 🙂
I understand that I am hardly an expert in this sport and I don’t want to pretend to be. I’m really excited about skiing U.S. right now with skiing.
My point with swimming and juniors was more alluding to my experience with coaching and the fact that many skiing juniors haven’t put in enough quality hours. I understand it has to be quality hours, with a coach who knows what they are doing, and it takes time…etc.
I see a lot of juniors putting in that quality time the last 2-3 years of high school but not really doing much before that.
In the midwest and more specifically MN we have some great ski clubs. The problem lies more with uneducated high school coaches. All of the kids skiing here ski with their high school team and many of the coaches don’t know proper technique, training, waxing. It’s difficult to get the kids ready for JO racing when they have a high school coach that thinks their invitational that week is more important.
Mike, maybe it’s different out West but here in the Midwest the JOQ events often times are merged together with master and collegiant aged skiers. I guess depending on the race there may not be OJ J1’s and J2’s racing head to head with a 40 year but the events are combined.
I’ve wondered if part of the problem with getting numbers into skiing is that we are the fattest nation in the world. As a whole we just aren’t a very active society. I know that just having the numbers isn’t going to get it done but having a bigger support base can help make things happen.
June 14, 2009 at 11:15 pm
Perhaps what might help the sport of xc skiing world-wide is for it to make up its mind what the heck it is. Every year the format of the sport at the elite level seems to morph to something new. 2 day pursuits to one day pursuits to continuous pursuits. Sprint distances changing. Sprint formats (heats and # or qualifiers) changing. 50 k races being run on tiny loops. Stage races, mini stage races, prime points. Hill climbs, city street sprints. Add these to the long-time divergence of mass starts vs individual starts and classic vs skate.
Athletes and event orgainzers that are used to sports with static formats (soccer, track, swimming, baseball, basketball, tennis, hockey, even alpine skiing, etc.) must wonder: what the heck IS cross country skiing. Is it a sport trying to figure out which end is up? What attraction to serious career athletes is a sport that can and does change overnight? It’s easy to explain to a kid how to play basketball. But how do you explain to a kid that xc skiing is cool when it will be different game tomorrow?
Actually, IMO xc skiing figured out what it should likely be quite a while ago. But now the sport, at the elite level, seems to dance too often to the puppet strings of major television networks. And the FIS does the bidding of these networks. Shouldn’t xc ski racing be for athletes? Shouldn’t xc ski racing be defined by the cross country skiing community and not the whims of network execs?
While I’m on a roll: Speaking of events being for athletes … will we ever see sexual equality in the Olympics? How silly it is to think women and men can’t do the same events for the same distance. That’s simply troglodytic logic. But what is really sad is that you don’t hear or see much in the way of elite women athletes complaining about this inequality or making a stand (other than women jumpers which is cool to see). So, IMO again, women should become much more proactive in defining xc skiing and Olympic sports in general.
I gotta laugh. The articles on FS with the most posts seem to always be JC’s. Someone from the USST/USSA should offer up an FS opinion article (oh yeah, that will be the day). We could then compare the number of posts and determine who is the more influential force in US xc skiing – JC or them. 😉
June 15, 2009 at 4:25 am
I think that the variety of formats and conditions in ski racing keeps it interesting for fans and athletes alike. I would never be able to train this many hours just swimming in a pool or running around a track. Regarding combining Senior Nationals with Junior Nationals I think it’s a good idea but making it work around or combining it with NCAA Championships would also be important.
June 15, 2009 at 8:49 am
One thing I think is very different between skiing in the US and skiing else where starts at an incredibly young age. I spent some time living in Europe during high school and I quickly realized that my childhood was much different then juniors I was surrounded by.
Growing up in the US I took part in a bit of everything… I’m certain the only sports I never took part in were swimming, tennis, and golf. I had what one might consider a “well rounded” upbringing and it definitely set me apart when I was in Europe. There we attended school in the morning and then in the afternoon we either went to art school, music school, or the sports school. At which ever school you picked to fill your afternoon with you then picked a focus; one sport, one instrument, or one art form. Incredibly simple, but incredibly different from what most of us experienced growing up.
As a skier there we also biked, swam, played our share of soccer, but we were still skiers. Throughout the summer and part of the fall we competed in a roller ski race circuit. The youngest age division? U8… that’s seven year olds! When did you start roller skiing?
I’m not sure if I would change how I grew up, after all I was a person who didn’t find skiing until much later in my junior career. However, I do believe that it is incredibly beneficial to be more sports specific at a younger age. We’ve mentioned other sports that the US excels in, gymnastics, figure skating, swimming, hockey, etc. I’m sure there are numerous reasons why the US has found success in these other sports, and I think one of the reasons is how young the kids are when they start to focus on those sports.
June 15, 2009 at 3:27 pm
Tim, I’m with Andrew on this one. I think the changes have brought people into the sport, made things more exciting and brought more money into the sport. We can’t ignore the fact that FIS and the media contracts that put World Cups on TV are vitaly important to having a real international high profile sport. Many of the comments on this topic have stated how marginal a sport XC skiing is and if we don’t keep up with the changing times we won’t have a sport that any kid is going to want to participate and dedicate their life to. You say ‘Shouldn’t xc ski racing be for athletes’, I would argue that making the changes is in the best interests of the athletes because it enhances the profile of the sport and makes it more marketable. If we want to stay in the forests and ski on wooden skis with no one watching we can keep doing what we’ve been doing and abandon skating and sprints and other ‘new’ events, or we can grow with the changing times and embrace what those changes bring us in new opportunities to attract the current and future generations of skiers.
From the sounds of many comments and JC’s original comments and articles of a couple years ago, I would say one of the biggest issues is the mudslinging that is aimed at the USST. Not very healthy to just throw comments around and bash the people that are in charge of running the organization at a National and International level. Come up with ways to help instead of taking pot shots like “That’s OK. The USST reaction to my stuff was one of my accurate predictions anyway. Hahah!”
June 15, 2009 at 4:13 pm
Since swimming seems to come up quite often as an example of a sport that has made the NCAA system work very well, I thought I’d offer some comments from my perspective.
– swimming is a huge sport in the US and many other countries, relative to XC skiing (300,000+ swimmers and 40,000+ registered masters swimmers)
– swimming is the most measurable sport, the conditions are always the same and for every age of swimming specific standards are set for times in every event. it is very easy to know what is required and what level you are swimming compared to everyone else in the world. it is really hard to not know what is required to be top international swimmer.
– swimmers start very young, as early as 7-8 in formal competitive programs training daily. certainly by age 14 they are training 7-9+ times per week year round (20+hrs/week)
– swim programs tend to burn out many, many swimmers before they ever hit an age where they could actually be good
– NCAA swimming is a big deal and almost every area of the country is represented at NCAA and all the major conferences. lots of money for scholarships and coaching.
– swimming is a professionally coached sport at virtually every club in the country from the very youngest ages. very few swim programs have volunteer coaches running anything except for assisting a full time paid coach. NCAA coaches are very well supported at the major programs.
– swimming can be done in almost every city in the country, all you need is a pool and a coach. almost every university and college has a pool on campus so no need for an athlete to travel any distance from training to class and back to training.
– swim workouts fit in with a school schedule on a daily and yearly basis. workout 1 before classes start and workout 2 after classes end. swimming is year round not focused on the winter season like skiing
So, compared to skiing that makes a few good points for why swimming has achieved success overall and in the NCAA system. I think one of the biggest areas that skiing can work towards is promoting a better understanding of what it takes to be an international level skier. We don’t have the advantage that swimming and track have, we can’t time a person and say that you are on track. The best we can do is running tests that don’t directly measure skiing ability or ski TT’s and races against known skiers and then try and compare to an international level. In swimming any small town kid with access to a pool can jump in and swim a 100 and see how their time compares to the national standards. It makes it very hard to pretend that you are going fast and working hard if you know what your times are. In skiing we can all pretend that we are doing the work but we don’t really know until its too late and the skiers arrive at the National level and can’t keep the pace needed to be competitive.
In the end I don’t know if collegiate skiing is the answer to the lack of depth in the USST and the development system. I’m sure it can play a role, but if all the efforts going in that direction I think some other critical areas are being neglected.
June 15, 2009 at 11:51 pm
If the focus of the USSA is only on racing there will never be enough XC skiers from which to draw the few that might excel at elite level racing. The promotion of all XC skiing across the US including recreational touring was once a significant part of the USSA’s mission. Publishing guidebooks, the connecting of interested people to programs that met their needs, and occasionally providing support for trail and access issues were part of the USSA’s mission along with the racing programs.
Today a rational-national voice representing XC skiing at land use and planning meetings is essential not only to create more trails but also to stop the loss of many trails to resort and urban development. The USSA could promote the sport of skiing in a way that the the Cross Country Ski Areas of America can not by promoting free skiing on public land.
The promotion of XC skiing to the public is a function that the USSA must return to if gains are to be made on the recruitment of racers and expanding funding options. Elite skiing should sit on top of a far broader base of general participation in, and excitement about this great sport. The prospects for funding race programs from a broad based USSA might be quite good.
June 16, 2009 at 9:13 pm
I am not sure if this is of value and how much difference there is between high school students here in US and students from other countries but one issue I face as a high school CC and track coach is the over involved student athlete. Often times the top athletes I work with are high achievers, not just in athletics, in everything. It’s the kid who is a 3-sport athlete, in band and choir, teens-as-teachers, SOS, student council, habitat for humanity, and part time hostess at Perkins that tend to show the most promise as an endurance athlete. Trying to get these athletes to understand that they can’t do everything and still find time to sleep is a constant struggle for me.
Unfortunately, I find its parents and high school counselors who are the biggest contributing factors to the over involved student athlete. I watch these kids kill themselves to build their resume for college. Some how running yourself ragged for two years is worth it if you get a local scholarship for $1500 at the end of your senior year. I don’t understand this and I am not sure what lesson these kids are really learning from it. Being well rounded is one thing, but getting so involved in school activities that you don’t give yourself a chance to excel at any one is senseless to me. Moreover, in some cases I think sport becomes another activity to be completed in the day and I wonder sometimes if the love for sport is lost. Somewhere in all the madness these athletes might still find time to be a kid.
June 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm
Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, its bobsled time! COOL RUNNINGS!
It’s too bad we don’t take more seriously the lessons in Cool Runnings. If you remember the movie, the Jamaican bobsled team was trying to be like the German team. It wasn’t until they realized they weren’t the German team, they were the Jamaican team, that they finally found some semblance of success.
What does that mean for US skiing? The USA is culturally different than any country we compete against. In the land of little league, many young athletes don’t even discover the world of endurance athletics until they are teenagers and introduced to track and/or cross country. Again, what does that mean for US skiing? Skiing isn’t like running or swimming, it’s a whole different ball game. It takes many years of dedication and learning to reach the point where an athlete can be competitive on the international level.
The US shouldn’t focus completely on juniors. Yes, it would be nice to get more people interested in skiing at a young age but in a time when juniors are playing baseball, basketball, soccer and many other sports, the hope of getting a large sum of young Americans to dedicate their lives to Nordic skiing is foolhardy.
The US needs to embrace the fact that our best hope for international success lies in older skiers. Take for example, Sarah Konrad. The first American woman to compete in two events during one winter Olympics and she did it at 39. Instead of blowing up our successful juniors we need programs that promote all ages of skiers. In my opinion, the best way to do that would be to create a national club which educates coaches on training and allows skiers of all ages to take part and compete in a higher level of competition. Just my two cents.
June 19, 2009 at 5:07 pm
triguy – I agree with you that skiing shouldn’t be wooden skis in the forest with no one watching. I disagree with you if you are saying that all changes to xc ski racing formats for the sake of exposure is good. There have been too many format changes with xc skiing the last decade. These changes are not being brought about by the USST (so no mudslinging here). They are being brought about by network execs that think the X-Games format is the cure for all popularity woes.
The same people that brought dumb-ass sports like mass-start ski-cross and snowboard-cross into the Olympics are the ones that help to decide what the latest xc ski racing format will be. Essentially – this ski race format du jour is sport “fashion”. It’s cool today and gone tomorrow (where is pro dual format with jumps slalom racing today?) If the xc skiing community honored standard events, like zillions of other sports do, then the xc ski racing would gain understanding and respect over time from viewers outside of the sport.
You want concrete suggestions – Ok: xc skiing should be 4 events in the Olympics where both sexes do the SAME distance: 1) 50 km classic. 2) 30 km continuous pursuit, ½ skate, ½ classic, 3) A 1.2 km skate sprint race using current WC format. 4) A 4 x 10 relay with 2 classic and 2 skate legs. Cast these events in stone. Don’t succumb to network execs’ brain farts of the moment that change the sport. And one day the sport will be understood and heralded by the masses.
July 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm
I just couldn’t pass up throwing my couple comments in on the annual spring-fever, pent up emotion “state of skiing” diatribe.
On club skiing (vs. high school skiing):
I skied on a ski club in Austria last season and it was pretty insightful to compare their club system with the strong high school system found in my native Minnesota. I definitely see some advantages to the club system. First, it was a more integrated system- everything from J2’s to Masters racing at the same races. It made the Pipeline so clear it was Painful. you could see your whole ski career mapped out on one result sheet all the way from J3 to Master. 2. The race season was longer. I think this is a huge and a point no one has brought up yet when talking about Junior hours. Racing in Austria mirrored the world cup and it was assumed that we would race from Dec. through mid. March. In MN. if you are a high school racer your season ends with state championships (if you get that far) the 2nd week of Feb. That is practically 4 weeks of training and racing that European Juniors have over US Juniors EVERY year. Forget about summer hours- its winter hours where we are losing out. This may just be a Minnesota problem as Junior Nat’s is in March, but it is a problem nonetheless. And anyone who has tried to get a Junior skier to care about skiing after the big race knows; it is a tough sell. Third, with a European club, one has the same coach to train with year round. Once again a HS ski coach has 13 weeks in the winter to coach and other than that they are not allowed to coach.
That being said, there are a number of advantages that US has. The sheer number of skiers that a HS system produces is awesome and something that Europeans would be jealous…I remember thinking when I got out of the van at the Austrian Nationals Championships, that any short notice citizens race in the Twin Cities could turn out more people than this. This is a huge asset not to be overlooked. We have seen that Minnesota does produce a especially large number of skiers to go ski in college and beyond. Second, the economic barriers on HS teams to entering the sport are often very low. Teams usually provide some equipment for beginning skiers, wax paid for, trail passes are paid for, race fees and transportation are all pretty much paid for with a nominal team fee. Even training clothing in the form of team jackets and race suits are often rented out to the students.
There was no denying that government subsidies are a huge thing keeping the clubs going in Europe…I paid 28 Euro to join the Skiverband for my year of racing! Until a US club can offer that same kind of subsidy, I hardly see it working as an alternative to HS skiing as far as getting involved on the entry level of the sport.
So the question becomes is there room for a club system, in addition to the high school system in the US? I’m not sure. In my opinion to be successful it would have to be able to take the best/most dedicated of the high school skiers and progress them into skiing more without becoming just a “country club”. It would also have to be something truly American and not just follow the country club model. hmm..