U.S. Nordic Combined Keeps on Plugging; USSA’s Bodensteiner Explains Decision

Alex KochonApril 18, 201413
Gold and silver: the U.S. earned two medals in the Large Hill competition in Vancouver, from Johnny Spillane and Billy Demong.
Happier times: The U.S. captured individual gold and silver in the large-hill competition at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, with Billy Demong (c) and Johnny Spillane (l). Four years later, the U.S. Nordic Combined program will no longer be directly funded by USSA.

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series about U.S. Nordic Combined, which was recently informed it would no longer receive direct USSA team funding after July 31, 2014. Stay tuned for updates and more on how USSA makes financial decisions.


Imagine being a 23-year-old athlete with what you believe to be the best days ahead of you in terms of performance. In four years’ time, you could very well be at the top of your game in what would be your third Olympics. At least that’s what the plan is.

Then imagine having that dream take a major hit when you’re told you might have to pay your own way to achieve it. Four more years of coming up with some $40,000 dollars a season for travel and racing expenses — not including coaches and other support staff.

U.S. Nordic Combined member Taylor Fletcher works to close a one-minute starting deficit on the first leg of Sunday's 4  x 5 k relay. Following his lead, the Americans placed third for their first medal in a World Championships team event. (Photo: Fiemme2013)
U.S. Nordic Combined’s Taylor Fletcher works to close a one-minute starting deficit as the first leg of the 4 x 5 k team event at 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. Following his lead, the Americans placed third for their first medal in a World Championships team event. (Photo: Fiemme2013)

That’s the reality that Taylor Fletcher faced Monday morning while sitting alongside his brother and teammate Bryan in a meeting with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) president and vice president. The two U.S. Nordic Combined skiers, along with teammate Billy Demong, were informed that their sport would no longer receive financial support from USSA.

“You work so hard and you put your effort toward becoming the best athlete you can,” Fletcher said on the phone Wednesday. “To get that message and to have that happen at the beginning of a new season and beginning of a World Championship year, it takes a lot of steam out of you and it really pisses me off.”

The estimated $3 million dollars that previously funded their team for a four-year Olympic cycle was now gone. Annually that broke down to between $580,000 and $650,000 in a non-Olympic year, a figure USSA Vice President of Athletics Luke Bodensteiner first told Steamboat Today and confirmed with FasterSkier on Wednesday.

“I’m still trying to grasp what’s going on and why they don’t see that our team has the potential,” Fletcher added. “We had a World Championship medal last year, I’ve had an individual [World Cup] podium, Bryan’s had an individual podium … and we’ve had the last two Olympic flag bearers. No one else on USSA has done that.”

Now put yourself in Bryan’s shoes. Now 27, he teamed up with his brother, Demong, and the recently retired Todd Lodwick to capture an unprecedented bronze in the 2013 World Championships team event. Bryan is outside the realm of his parent’s health insurance and will no longer have medical costs covered by USSA. That’s a big deal for anyone, let alone someone who rockets some 95 kilometers per hour down a jump and into the air, and pushes their body to extreme limits in cross-country ski races.

Bryan Fletcher jumping last season.
Bryan Fletcher jumping last season at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah. (Photo: U.S. Ski Team)

To top that off, Bryan’s got a wedding to pay for with his fiancé, Nicole Thorsen, in late September.

“I don’t know if I’m gonna end up having to work to pay for the season,” Bryan said. “In all reality for me, it’s not really an option. I have some school that I’ve already signed up for, I have a wedding to plan in September and to pay for, too. The cards are stacked against me a little bit. … Going into the season, it’s unclear as to how much we’re gonna have to step up. … I think that for most of us athletes, we’ve given all we can give and we’re riding it out.”

That’s the case for most of the athletes and coaches at U.S. Nordic Combined after the team learned the  news early Monday morning at USSA’s headquarters in Park City, Utah. In a phone conversation, head coach Dave Jarrett said he was surprised by the decision, considering it was the beginning of a new quadrennial, or four-year Olympic cycle. In retrospect, he said maybe he shouldn’t have been.

“I had a sense for a while that something wasn’t right,” Jarrett said. “Planning started as normal and then it took a slight detour with the timeline of how you get things done. It became clear that something wasn’t right. I knew something wasn’t totally clear.”

Jarrett said Bodensteiner had given them a heads up that this was a possibility beforehand.

“We got a message Saturday night saying that we were gonna have an all-coaches-and-staff meeting with [CEO] Tiger [Shaw] and Luke,” Taylor recalled. “From that I could grasp that it wasn’t gonna be good. I was hoping for a budget cut at the most.

“They sat us down and they were kind of like, yeah, budget cuts are going around the table left and right and we have to invest in the sports we feel are a worthy investment,” he added. “Unfortunately, it brought us to the decision that we can no longer support nordic combined and based off the data that we have we don’t feel that there’s podium potential in 2018 or 2022. We’re gonna do what we can keep you guys afloat, but as of July 31st, if you guys don’t have the funds, you’re on your own. And they kind of just got up and left.”

USSA’s Decision Outline:
(according to an email from Vice President of Athletics Luke Bodensteiner)

Viability – Factors influencing the long-term and stable viability of each sport and discipline were examined.  These factors included the cost of providing and maintaining sufficient elite-level and athlete recruitment training facilities, international participation, and financial costs/benefits of required sport programming.

Potential –
 Short-term success potential (4-5 years) was analyzed through a thorough assessment of the existing and potential elite athlete pool.  Critical factors included specific athlete performance projections, Performance Band analysis, numbers of existing podium potential athletes, and a sport’s ability to transfer and develop elite talent from other sports.Also assessed were opportunities to positively affect Strike Rate – the ability to deliver podium potential athletes to the Olympic podium with greater certainty.  These included opportunities in technology, data tracking, human performance, athlete safety and protection, Olympic venue strategies, and the availability of talented human resources.Sustainability – The long-term sustainability of each sport and discipline was assessed by looking at both the historical track record, and the conditions for future sustainability.A historical record of sustained Olympic performance indicates a strong existing sport infrastructure and culture, likely to continue to generate success in the future.Measures indicating the conditions of future sustainability included participation numbers and trends, athlete recruitment opportunities, certified and professional coaches, the ability of the sport community and industry to sustain the sport infrastructure capable of generating Olympic success, and the ability of the sport infrastructure and development systems to regenerate teams of podium potential athletes.”

According to Bodensteiner, who spoke with FasterSkier during his lunch break on Wednesday, the decision was part of a long-term plan that had been part of USSA’s discussions since 2008.

“It’s a decision that’s obviously taken a while to make because it’s not an easy decision and it’s not one that anybody wants to have to make,” Bodensteiner said.

The foundation for such decisions, what Bodensteiner referred to as “an overall strategic planning framework and a resource allocation process,” was essentially laid in 2008 and approved by USSA’s board in 2010. After the Vancouver Winter Olympics that year, USSA stopped funding three sports as national teams: ski jumping, ski cross and parallel snowboarding. It was a new model USSA was trying: maintain a partnership with these sports while leaving them to self govern.

From USSA’s perspective, “… it’s more of an opportunistic way to manage [those sports],” Bodensteiner said. Doing so lifts restrictions on sponsorships, such as those that might appear on one’s uniform, and gives athletes of those sports greater freedom when it comes to reaching out for money — all of which goes directly to them. The catch is, they have to generate it themselves.

At the same time, USSA directly funds athletes at “the very top level,” he said. “It’s not the easiest model — it definitely takes more relationship management. It puts more emphasis on sports-specific support groups to shoulder a lot of the administrative side of the sports, but it’s also been used with success. I look back to World Championships in 2013 and athletes from each one of those sports [ski jumping, ski cross and parallel snowboarding] won medals.”

By why cut a sport whose athletes have already proven they can win medals, and a lot of them? At the 2010 Olympics, nordic combined took home four medals — 44 percent of those awarded in their sport. Since 2007, the team has tallied six World Championships medals, including the aforementioned bronze — the first time U.S. Nordic Combined medaled in a team event at worlds.

“They tell you every year: better results, more money,” Taylor said. “Since 2003, Johnny [Spillane] got a World Championship medal, 2007: Bill got a World Championship medal, 2009: they swept the individual events at World Championships, 2010: we got Olympic medals, 2013: World Championship medal. I don’t know what else you really need to do. We’ve never had the money to go and contest for the [World Cup] overalls in the last couple years. We’ve always had to skip one or two competitions to make it work. That’s the hard part to swallow.”

Bodensteiner said it was a matter of assessing future performance potential, which USSA has done over the last several years.

“You’ve got Lodwick who’s retired, you’ve got Demong who may ski past next season, but that’s not certain, but then you also look at results, trends in terms of where those athletes have come from and where they’re headed,” he said. “It’s not to say, in our assessment, that Bryan and Taylor don’t have the potential to win a medal in PyeongChang, [South Korea,] the differentiation comes in how strong that chance is and where you have an athlete that has a potential for a medal, that may be a smaller statistical probability than an athlete in another sport who’s a very strong, likely medal candidate.”

As for Demong, there’s a chance he may not continue his career into next season. While he hadn’t planned on another Olympics, he told FasterSkier after the end of the Sochi Games that he was considering competing for another season to help bridge the gap in developing the sport. On Tuesday, he didn’t say he was retiring, but told Steamboat Today, “I’ve had a pretty good run. To me it really discourages the legacy we worked so hard to build. It has had its head cut off.”

The bottom line is, USSA has a published vision to be “the best in the world” in Olympic skiing and snowboarding. Part of the nonprofit’s decision to stop funding nordic combined after July 31, 2014, stems from their analysis of the sport at all levels — including development — and performance projections through not only the 2018 Olympics, but the 2022 Winter Games as well.

Luke Bodensteiner (Photo: USSA)
USSA VP Luke Bodensteiner (Photo: USSA)

Bodensteiner explained that USSA uses a number of different measures to determine if an athlete is destined for greatness, or Olympic medals, or not. Some of the most effective methods involve “retroactive statistical analysis,” looking at a pool of international skiers who’ve had success at the highest levels going back to see when they hit “key performance markers, i.e. how good does an athlete have to be statistically at Junior Worlds or at what age do they have to score their first World Cup points,” he said.

From there, they can generally determine whether a given athlete is on that track or not. “Of course there are now and again outliers to that system, but what your’e really trying to look for is the trend of an athlete’s performance,” he added.

They also look at Olympic performances over the last four Olympic cycles (16 years) to predict medal-earning potential based on an athlete’s long list of rankings or results.

“It’s tough to project … [but] it’s actually been fairly reliable,” Bodensteiner said. “We’ve been able to project our overall Olympic achievements with not great accuracy, but enough to really get a sense of where we steer our resources.”

So that’s the decision, one that Jarrett encouraged his athletes and the U.S. nordic-combined community to find solutions to rather than fight it.

“I think everyone’s upset and they don’t understand how an NGB cannot be supporting any of the sports it’s supposed to be a national governing body of,” Jarrett said. “That’s a business decision. … They’re not gonna change their mind no matter how hard you try. Let’s reach out to contacts and see if we can’t find a solution.”

According to the Fletcher brothers, that’s what they’ll be doing over the next several weeks — trying to seek ways to fund their future in the sport. But first, they said Demong encouraged them to get back to training, work hard and focus on their job as athletes, and they’ll sit down and brainstorm next week.

“The development team, they have to pay for their skis,” Taylor said. “They have to pay for a fair share amount of their expenses. The NNF [National Nordic Foundation] has stepped in and thank God for them because half the guys on the team wouldn’t be able to do this because we don’t have the money. Then to have to pay for airfare, lodging, food while we’re over there, that’s gonna be running upwards of forty grand a year to go to all the competitions. I don’t have that and I know Bryan’s the same way, and I definitely don’t want to be taking out loans to do a sport just because you love it.”

While the big question is whether nordic combined can raise enough money on its own to support its coaches and staff, USSA reserves some funds to provide top athletes. As for how much that might be, Bodensteiner said that will likely be decided in early May. The organization is halfway through its budgeting process, which takes three to four (and sometimes more) weeks, he said.

Based on what teams like women’s ski jumping have received, Taylor believed that would be in the ballpark of around $40,000, and he was unsure whether that would be allocated individually or shared throughout the team.

“They [told us], if you guys can’t come up with the funding, then we’ll turn to direct athlete support and that will go to the top guys on the team,” Taylor said. “They didn’t give any sense of how much that is. Everyone’s kind of left in the dark. I think based off ladies’ ski jumping it was, I think, $40,000 for the team. In that case, that’s not gonna go very far.”

Bodensteiner explained that money is tight — as it usually is — at the start of a new Olympic cycle. USSA is operating with a smaller budget its usual $20 million dollars, a figure Bodensteiner published on USSA’s website last July. Roughly more than 20 percent of that comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), according to the USOC’s 990 tax form. A spokesperson for the USOC could not be immediately reached to explain how grant money is allocated to USSA.

Ideally, USSA would like for the Olympic Committee to fund it evenly across a four-year period for greater stability in financial resources, but as it stands, the grant money flows in greater quantities for the Olympics and takes a hit the year after, Bodensteiner explained.

“They haven’t set their funding for next year, but they made it clear to all winter NGB’s that, hey we are not gonna provide the same level resources to you that we have in the past. We’re shifting to summer now,” he said, adding that the USOC is now focused on the Summer Olympics. “That’s been the case as long as I’ve worked with USOC so it’s not unpredictable, but certainly it creates some challenges each post-Olympics season.”

As for what will happen to the USOC grant money that previously went to nordic combined, Bodensteiner said it will be spread across the remaining USSA sports.

“All the revenue comes into one space at the end of the day and gets allocated out,” he explained. “Where we’ve been able to reduce expenses on nordic combined, either by spending less or raising more through an alternative funding stream, what it’s allowed us to do is reduce less out of the other sports. We’ve been challenged this year to basically reduce the athletic budget by a given amount.

“The choices that we have to make are, do we reduce everybody by the same percent, and everybody takes a hit? Are there places that we can extract more so that we’re protecting other programs in different ways? If you think about taking that much resource that we’ve typically spent on nordic combined, that’s resource that we don’t have to take out of cross-country or out of snowboarding or freestyle or alpine.”

Asked how much the budget was reduced and how much USSA spends on other sports annually, like cross-country skiing and alpine, Bodensteiner declined to answer. However, he said nordic combined’s $580,000-$650,000 yearly budget made it the third most costly sport at USSA, behind cross-country skiing and alpine —  listed in no particular order.

“We stay away from budget figures because what we want to avoid — I just told you cross-country spends more than freestyle or snowboarding, for example — we want to get away from those kind of discussions, i.e. cross country hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 1976 and mogul skiing has won every year,” Bodensteiner said. “What we’ve really done is set up a funding mechanism that’s far more analytical and strategic, and we essentially make decisions that way versus having kind of unfounded debates at the board level about what’s more popular, what’s had a better track record.”

At the end of the day, USSA took a sizable chunk of its pie to put toward other sports within its financial umbrella. Now, those with a vested interested in U.S. nordic combined are looking toward the future.

“There’s a lot of people that believe in us and I think we believe in ourselves and we can find these funds and we can continue to build a strong program,” Bryan said. “Nordic combined was on the rise in North America in popularity and definitely in Europe. We have one of the largest TV viewerships of any sport. I think that eventually you put it out there that we need the support and hopefully people will come.”

“I feel like I’m just getting to my potential and I definitely don’t wanna give this dream up,” Taylor explained. “I mean, this is what I’ve lived for and trained for and this is what I want to do for the next four years at least. I have no doubts that 2018 is the best opportunity for me to capture Olympic medals. I definitely don’t want to give this up for something that I had no control of.”

Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon (alexkochon@gmail.com) is a former FasterSkier editor and roving reporter who never really lost touch with the nordic scene. A freelance writer, editor, and outdoor-loving mom of two, she lives in northeastern New York and enjoys adventuring in the Adirondacks. She shares her passion for sports and recreation as the co-founder of "Ride On! Mountain Bike Trail Guide" and a sales and content contributor at Curated.com. When she's not skiing or chasing her kids around, Alex assists authors as a production and marketing coordinator for iPub Global Connection.

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  • cuxc

    April 18, 2014 at 11:41 am

    I understand that the amount of funding expected from the USOC for 2014/15 is going to be less than for an olympic year (maybe a lot less), and that budget cuts will be needed for all sports, but why doesn’t the USSA look at cutting their administrative costs during these years to help offset the lower amount received by the USOC?

    Maybe it’s just me, but when an executive at a non-profit receives more money per year than then entire sport of nordic combined would receive (and presumably every sport except alpine), there may be a way to find extra money…I’m not discounting the leaders of USSA at all, as I think they are doing a great job with the limited resources available, but maybe there salaries should be cut for a year, or at least allocated after all teams have been funded.

  • Big Joe

    April 18, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Something tells me neither the USOC or USSA will articulate how much money is being stolen from NC and ski jumping. I predict a mealy-mouthed “we do not allocate the money that way” answer. And sadly, LB will get away with it once again. The relationship between USOC and USSA is too cozy. Anyone remember where Jim Page went after the ’87 blood doping scandal?

  • tclaynm

    April 18, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    There is no question that the NoCo and ski jumping teams should be given their fair share of the USOC money. That is robbing from Peter to pay Paul if USSA just gets to pocket the whole thing and drop those other programs. Unreal!

    That would be like your local government saying that they were dropping providing road maintenance services but will continue to collect the taxes that had previously been allocated for the services, and that hopefully some other entity would step in to take up that responsibility. It’s a brilliant loop-hole if it is allowed by USOC, but it’s incredibly underhanded and unfair.

    If this had been coming on since 2008, why didn’t USSA develop a “transitional exit strategy” that helped NoCo bridge the gap for their own funding??? Now, they’ve really kicked them in the nuts with an instantaneous drop and no time to become self-sufficient for next season. To add insult to injury, the injustice of this situation is exacerbated by the fact that they didn’t have this strategy in place during the 2010 Olympics, when NoCo’s stock was at an all-time high and they would have had the opportunity to capitalize off of it.

    I’m beginning to wonder what valid role USSA should even play in any Nordic sport. I don’t want to throw stones, as I am just an armchair observer, but it does seem like USSA’s time has come [to an end] with managing Nordic sports. And I get it. Alpine skiing has that rock star glamour and money behind it…everybody and their dog goes Alpine skiing.

    For example, look at biathlon — they have managed to thrive without USSA and I think the rest of the Nordic sports should secede from the Union and develop a separate governing body that more appropriately represents the needs of the Nordic sports, staying flexible with various funding (i.e. shooting sports sponsors’ money going to biathlon, helmet sponsors’ money going to jumping, etc…). With the secession should go the USOC allocation money for the Olympic sports.

    But, just to be clear, I think the USSA has done some good things with the cross-country program. It has grown in popularity and the level is increasing all the time. While that is more attributed to the local clubs initiatives and hard work, not USSA per se, something has functioned well enough for the system to be successful. It just seems to me that the time has come for Nordic sports in the USA to separate from the mother ship. But, the question is…are corporate sponsors interested enough in Nordic to make it salient? I think the answer is yes if we can continue building as we have been, and have the positive role models that the current crop of cross-country, Nordic combiners and jumpers (and biathletes) have produced (i.e. Fast and Female, etc.). If you take all of that stuff that has been built up in the various programs and present it to prospective corporate sponsors, I think there is a very attractive sponsorship opportunity.

    OK, I realize that I’ve spouted on long enough and shouldn’t presume to have all the answers. All of this is easier said than done. This all takes a lot of corporate knowledge, salesmanship and footwork to accomplish and I shouldn’t get on my soapbox if I’m not willing to help out. To do my part, I will continue promoting the sport with events and coaching locally…and as usual, without the help of USSA…

  • Martin Hall

    April 18, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    This following article will help answer some of the questions–it is lengthy, but worth the read;

    How Well Are US Athletes Supported by the USOC? And 11 Other Olympic Questions…

    By Nathan Ikon Crumpton

    September 18, 2013

    Without the athletes there’s no Olympic team, no $5 billion in IOC revenue, no multi-million dollar TV contracts, no Team USA, and no Games.

    So let’s take a look at how American athletes fare from all this money that’s being generated from the sweat of their labors.

    1) How much of USOC’s funds are allocated to directly supporting athletes?

    Earlier this summer the United States Olympic Committee (the “USOC” for short – the only 501(c)3 non-profit sanctioned by Congress to represent the United States at the Olympic Games) released its IRS 990 tax return for 2012. This allows the public to view and analyze its financial information for the past 4 year “quadrennium Olympic cycle” (or “quad”).

    So let’s start with the athletes: how much of the USOC’s expenses go to them?

    All of the following services are included in the figures for direct athlete support:
    •“Athlete performance pool – support training” (i.e. stipends)
    •“Elite Athlete Health Insurance & Other Medical Benefits for Athletes”
    •“Operation Gold – awarding top place finishes”
    •“Tuition assistance to pursue a college degree”
    •And “Special grants not already included above”

    The 2009-2012 direct athlete support expense totaled: $81,622,014.

    The 2009-2012 expense budget for the USOC totaled: $795,917,076.

    That means that 10.3% of total expenses were in direct support of US Athletes.

    USOC 2009-2012 Direct Athlete Support Table

    (Click here to download complete spreadsheet analysis)

    2) So where does the rest of the money go?

    According to Charity Navigator, an independent non-profit organization that rates other charities’ effectiveness, the USOC still directs 76.2% of its expenses towards “Program Expenses,” from which the 10.3% for athletes is derived. (The USOC earned 3 out of 4 stars on Charity Navigator‘s rating system for finances, accountability, and transparency.)

    Here’s a 2009-2011 USOC Athlete Advisory Council (AAC) chart showing the average annual breakdown of expenses: GRAPH DID NOT COPY—(-use the above 2009-2011 USOC AAC Chart as the address to find it)

    usoc expenses breakdown( this will also work)

    3) So what is “USOC Member Support?”

    Most of the money goes to “member support” which means the individual National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and other institutions that provide services to the USOC.

    For example, the largest recipient of USOC funding in 2011 (a non-Olympic year where summer and winter sports have more balanced expenses), the largest recipient of USOC funds was the US Ski & Snowboard Association NGB, with $3.45 million in grants. Following them were USA Track & Field with $2.72 million, US Speedskating with $2.52 million, USA Swimming with $2.49 million, and US Shooting with $1.75 million.

    In total, in 2011 17 NGBs received over $1 million in grant money from the USOC. And 37 NGBs or other organizations received between $100,000 and $1 million.

    However, it is important to remember that each NGB is its own independent non-profit organization, and can receive funding from its own sponsors and fundraising efforts. For example, although the US Ski & Snowboard received $3.45 million from the USOC in 2011, their revenue for that fiscal year was over $24 million.

    4) So at the NGB level, how much of their expenses go towards direct athlete support?

    That depends on the individual NGB. According to a USOC AAC analysis of Summer Sport funding in 2011, the expenses earmarked for direct athlete support vs. the total USOC grant to the NGB are compared in the graph below:

    NGB expense breakdown cred

    (As a related side note, the AAC presented an independent finding on direct athlete support, and calculated that ~6% of the USOC’s expenses were for direct support of US athletes, although those calculations did not include the EAHI [health insurance] expenses.)

    Most athlete stipends, which are reserved for only the top ranked athletes, are in the $400 to $2,000 per month range. Or $4,800 to $24,000 per year, which is below minimum wage for many considering how many hours go into training for the Olympics. And those are the fortunate ones to even receive stipends.

    5) What about the Olympic Training Centers?

    The Olympic Training Centers (OTCs) are an interesting case. Some would consider OTCs a form of direct support for US athletes. They are, after all, state of the art facilities where some US athletes live and train. With 3 OTCs nationwide (Lake Placid NY, Colorado Springs CO, and Chula Vista CA) they cost around $23 million per year – or roughly $100 million per quad – to operate.

    However, according to the USOC AAC, only 13% of US Olympic Sports use the OTCs.

    And of that 13%, only a small handful of those athletes get funded housing. Getting bed space at an OTC can prove an arduous task for an American athlete, especially since the USOC has made an effort to earn money from these world class training facilities by renting out beds and training time.

    At an OTC, it’s common to see athletes from various other countries living and training there since they’re willing to pay, in some cases, over $100 per night per person. And the prospect of making money from an OTC is more attractive to bottom lines than funding a lower ranked US athlete.

    Furthermore, with the recent effort to continue turning OTCs into revenue generating facilities, the USOC has started charging its lower ranked US athletes (i.e. – those who often need the most financial help) for access to the OTCs.

    So for many American athletes, the OTCs are not a form of direct support. Instead they have become an additional form of out-of-pocket expense.

    6) How about administrative expenses?

    Administrative expenses cost about 12% of the total USOC expenses.

    In 2012, 14 USOC executives took home over a quarter million dollars in compensation.

    In other words, there were about a dozen USOC employees receiving over $1 million in compensation during the last quad alone, and that excludes any of the executive compensation within individual NGBs. (And remember that the USOC and the NGBs are considered charities.)

    7) Are the USOC’s financial statements sound?

    All indications are “Yes,” the USOC’s books are sound and clean. Deloitte audits the USOC’s financial statements, although there’s a clear moral hazard there since Deloitte is also a USOC sponsor. However, independent audits (by Grant Thornton) have also come to the conclusion that there are no irregularities in the USOC’s accounting practices.

    The issue it seems is not that the USOC is cooking their books (a claim that might have been more difficult to make in prior quads); rather their operating practices still manage to keep athletes in severely disenfranchised states, often struggling to stay above the poverty line.

    8) Don’t the medalists get huge bonuses if they win a medal?

    The USOC grants bonuses of $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $5,000 for bronze (The “Operation Gold” expenses in the direct athlete support calculations above). However, those bonuses are still taxed, and a gold medalist can expect to only net ~$16,000 from the years of effort that went into winning the medal.

    Russia, another country that traditionally tallies a large number of medals at the Olympics, offered its athletes $100,000 for a gold medal during the Beijing Games, and other nations with smaller total medal counts have offered much larger bonuses for medal winners.

    9) Well, the athlete would still have a gold medal, right?

    Actually, the gold medals are over 90% silver, and are required to have only 6 grams of gold in them.

    Even at over $1,100 an ounce for gold, the Vancouver Olympic Gold Medal (one of the largest and heaviest in history) would only be worth about $500 if smelted down. And an Olympic bronze medal might be worth a few Big Macs at McDonalds. (McDonalds, incidentally, is an Olympic “Top Sponsor” that spent an estimated $240,000,000 for sponsorship privilege in the past quad.)

    Olympic medals are valued for their symbolism, and not their bullion price.

    But since symbolism doesn’t pay the bills, some – like Mark Wells of 1980′s “Miracle On Ice” hockey team – have had to reluctantly part ways with their medals. Mark sold his gold medal to help pay for his medical bills.

    10) Aren’t Olympians considered amateur athletes?

    While once true, amateurism in the Olympics faded out in the 1970′s. The IOC eliminated amateurism in 1971, and the USOC phased it out in 1978.

    The IOC and USOC recognized the fact that athletes were becoming increasingly competitive and needed to dedicate more time, money, and energy into their athletic endeavors. Removing the amateurism stipulations provided the opportunity for athletes to invest more into their training, and raised the level of competition for all.

    In today’s highly competitive world, Olympic success is often a financial arms race to become the best you can be, and professionalism is a part of that. Just without the professional salary for most.

    11) Well, aren’t Olympic athletes all millionaires from their sponsors?

    A cute fantasy. Please read “The Intrinsic Value of Elite Athletes.”

    Or how Olympians’ families have gone broke by supporting their children.

    Or the jobs that Olympians have held while competing, from nurse to janitor.

    Or the actual costs of being an Olympic athlete; costs which are borne by the athletes and their families, and not the USOC.

    12) Has the USOC always been so “Ebenezer Scrooge-ish” with its athletes?

    10.3% direct athlete support, as small as it may seem, is actually a slight improvement from previous quads. Danika Holbrook (Princeton ’95, Olympian ’04) conducted research for USAT that showed that direct athlete support during the first quad after the turn of the century hovered between 6 and 9%.

    The USOC has also become leaner, more transparent, and more efficient since those days as well. While it used to suffer from grossly excessive bureaucracy, a bloated board of directors, and a general lack of transparency, some progress has been made in recent years.

    Many of those organizational problems still exist, which are likely a natural byproduct of being a monopolistic organization working in a competition-free environment. And there have also been a number of follies in recent years, including the embarrassing era in 2009-2010 when the USOC was paying 3 CEOs simultaneously (including Stephanie Streeter’s $1,006,336 compensation package for 10 months of work), and the revolt against USOC management led by a group of NGB executives.

    Needless to say, improvements can still be made.

    According to their Mission Statement, “The vision of the USOC is to enable America’s athletes to realize their Olympic and Paralympic dreams.”

    It just seems ethically questionable that this charity’s mission allows for the exploitation of athletes’ labors to create such considerable wealth for so many executives and administrators while leaving such a difficult financial path for the athletes themselves.


    Nathan Ikon Crumpton graduated cum laude from Princeton University, where he was a four-year Division I and All-Ivy track & field athlete. He is now an Olympic development athlete with the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. He also served in a volunteer capacity on the USOC-AAC’s Task Force on Governance and Resource Allocation. He can be contacted at crumpton@usathletictrust.org

    Discussion about this article can be had on our Facebook Page.

    The biggest conclusions I can draw from this is that the USOC needs to big time figure how to “streamline” themselves way more, so that more money and support is available for the athletes. The differential in what they raised in the above mentioned quadrennial versus what trickled it’s way down through everything the USOC is doing was a paltry 10%—where the hell did it all go! My thoughts here—if it isn’t directly going to support the athletes it’s got to go—-GONE!
    The first thing I would do is cut the board by 75%—you still be able to make all the right decisions.
    Also, it seems ironic that the majority of the athletes who are “poor mouthed” now have to pay to use the training centers to the point they are trying to run the centers off their already bowed backs. It sure looks like the USOC has OUT GROWN its self when you are using these all ready “bare pocketed athletes” to support USOC programs. WOW what’s next!!

  • Tim Kelley

    April 18, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Marty, I think I’m reading the article you quoted a little different than you. The way I read it – 10% of USOC revenues go directly to elite athletes. But most of the USOC money goes to “Member Support” – which are the NGBs. So, if the USOC gave 3.5 million to the USSA NGB, then they would also give close to 10% of that, $350K, directly to top skiers and snowboarders in the way of health insurance, stipends and medal premiums.

    You are right that streamlining is most likely needed. Every time there is an administrative layer that siphons of funds … less gets to the athletes.

    I think everyone understands that USOC funding declines after an Olympic year. But say the funding cut from the USOC was 50%. When USOC revenues are 20% of the budget, that’s only a 10% loss of income. So why not cut all programs by 10%? Seems like that would be what a true NGB would do.

    But as LB mentions, the business model of the USSA changed radically in 2008 from that of a NGB to that of a marketing agency. Money is now funneled towards sports then generate the most exposure and can be leveraged to generate the most lucrative corporate sponsorship contracts. That makes great business sense. But that was never intended to be the business model of a non-profit NGB.

    Quite frankly, the USSA has a good scam going. It goes like this: Tell the USOC you are the NGB for 10 sports. Get USOC money for 10 sports. Actually give some of the USOC money to 5 sports and keep the rest to do whatever you want with. Nice! I think in business school they call this the “mafia business model”.

    NoCo needs to learn a lesson that most small buisiness people learn. And that is – when people don’t pay you, then don’t do business with them. NoCo should look to establish their own NGB. Don’t hang around with folks that don’t pay you the money that was supposed to be paid to you by the USOC. Stand up for yourselves and don’t continue to be extorted.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    April 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    USA Biathlon

  • davord

    April 18, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    The USOC should stick to what they do best: enable and protect dopers (Armstrong, Jones, Montgomery, White, Hamilton, Greene, Lewis, Clark, Gay, Gatlin, Crawford etc, etc). Trying to battle the USOC is pointless at this point. More money will got to ‘sports’ like slope style, half pipe. Sports where guys like Shaun White and Seth Westcott come to the fore….Traditional sports like NoCo and XC will continue to take a hit until there are some major results and results that will come in bunches for a number of years. I suspect more funding for XC, for example, will come if the women continue to produce great results. Perhaps USSA should look elsewhere for more funding. Somehow these two sports need to also get a little more media exposure. Maybe someone needs to do something outlandish and get Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith to talk about it.

  • Martin Hall

    April 18, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Biathlon operates under a different international organization—the International Biathlon Union, not the USOC or FIS.
    Also, I think NOCO is talking of all the Nordic disciplines ( XC M-W, Jumping M-W, NOCO M-W) breaking off from the USSA/USST and going to the FIS, USOC and the IOC for independent recognition as the ruling body and sanctioning organization
    Then this parity and effort by the present USST can wipe out these Nordic Programs for good. I think the message is loud and clear.
    As was pointed out in one of the comments the present USSA/USST has had this plan in place and justified by the year 2008 and the jumping and NOCO guys should have seen it coming—–who knew about it other then those people doing the study and putting the numbers together. Cross country better wake up—you’ll be lucky to make it through this quadrennial. You hardly get any money yourselves now—if it wasn’t for the Red Group support and NFF with Nordic Dave’s foresight and huge effort—you’d essentially have no program. It’s a hell of a way to have to operate.
    A collaboration needs to take place with the power brokers of the US Nordic world to get this ship afloat and operating. It won’t be easy as the USST/USSA needs all of you to get the USOC’s full financial grant, so they can continue to steal it from you. The USOC is not willing to step in and stop this as they should. Shameful on their part.

  • davord

    April 18, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    So should there be a private-public partnership, or private teams with private sponsors or teams sponsored by gov’t institutions and corporations, or….? Again though, our sports are not mainstream, we can all agree on that, but that needs to somehow change. There are 300 million people living in this country and a lot of wealth and resources. Obviously not all of that wealth is used at the right time or for the right reasons, but that’s a story for another time. Surely, something has to give here. Either USSA gets some balls and gets more funding whichever way they can or they will continue, like always, to rely on clubs to develop athletes and results. You are not always going to have clubs like APU and skiers like Kikkan Randall bailing out the USSA with world-class results. You just won’t. The last US XC medal at the Olympics was in 1976.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    April 19, 2014 at 12:31 am

    I think ussa should cut the remaining Nordic sports of jumping and xc – they don’t make much money and makes logical sense. As Pointed out above, fis governs skiing, which is worlds apart from ibu able to to support usba, so not a lot of long term viability,as funding really depends upon potential sponsorship and donor money, not intrinsic need. Oh, I wish they cut xc when mr. Bodenstiener was wearing shell choakers, long hair, looking cool making his Olympic dreams a reality. Luke, IMHO, you are a jerk off for not resigning your job before they cut Nordic combined, it was wrong and should not be permitted by the non-profit charged with growing these sports and recruiting future generation. This is just so stupid. Too bad we can’t go back to regional associations. Did I say this was really god damn stupid?

  • skijumper

    April 19, 2014 at 11:54 am

    So if nordic combined is now considered a non-medal possibility in 2018 and 2022, does this mean the mens xc team will also be cut??

  • JimGalanes

    April 19, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Be there no doubt that the USOC has given their approval for these actions.

  • JimGalanes

    April 19, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    A new NGB for the Nordic Sports has been discussed for decades. It wont ever happen with out the support and approval of the USST, USOC and the FIS. The sad part is the strong community support for the Nordic programs makes it easy for the USST to cut these programs.

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