When U.S. Nordic Combined coaches Dave Jarrett and Greg Poirier sat down with Tiger Shaw and Luke Bodensteiner of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) on Monday, Jarrett said he wasn’t exactly sure what they were in for.
The national-team head coach for the last six years, he had a sense of what was in store for his sport — challenges, big ones, before and after the Olympics. But every nordic “free-heel” sport deals with the same thing, he said.
By 8 a.m. Monday, it became pretty clear what Shaw, USSA’s new CEO, and Bodensteiner, vice president of athletics, wanted to talk to them about in person. After July 31, 2014, USSA would no longer fund nordic combined’s “traditional team infrastructure,” according to a mass email from Shaw that was sent to Jarrett and several other stakeholders. That would leave U.S. Nordic Combined essentially on its own for financial support, which Jarrett said will most immediately affect the employment of himself and Poirier, the development coach.
In the meantime, he said not to worry about the athletes — they’ll train for next season as usual. The ones that were in Park City, Utah, on Monday — Billy Demong, Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher — also spoke with Shaw and Bodensteiner in a second meeting about the decision.
“I had a sense for a while that something wasn’t right,” Jarrett said on the phone Tuesday. “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. Luke gave us a heads up that this was a scenario.”
That didn’t necessarily soften the blow, but rather than retaliate, Jarrett said he began to brainstorm. Women’s Ski Jumping USA and men’s USA Ski Jumping did it on their own — they could, too.
“We haven’t stopped spinning from the news,” Demong told Steamboat Today. “We have to turn that into solution making.”
“Based on [USSA’s] study in 2010 that eliminated jumping in other sports, they didn’t think nordic combined was a podium-potential sport for 2018 or 2022,” Jarrett explained. “As of July 31st, it’s gonna be the end of my job and Greg’s job, so funding stops then. In the meantime, if we’re able to raise operating capital, they have offered to run [fundraising] through USSA. If somebody wanted to donate or underwrite our needs that they would be able to donate to USSA [which would go] directly for nordic combined.”
There’s also the possibility of U.S. nordic combined signing sponsors outside of USSA’s contracts. According to Shaw’s email, USSA “will continue to provide direct funding for qualifying elite athletes. … We will work with the nordic combined community to look at alternatives in structure and funding. The USA has an engaged and passionate club-based pipeline, especially in communities of Lake Placid, Steamboat Springs and Park City. The USSA will continue to work with these clubs to provide an infrastructure for athletic success and sport development.”
“Unless you win the Powerball or something, there’s no way to create a slush fund for a rainy day for this to happen.” — U.S. Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett
Jarrett emailed members of the nordic community on Tuesday morning with the subject heading: “Tall Order”. While many were disappointed and some shocked by the news, he said he encouraged them to think of solutions.
“I see this challenge as an opportunity for autonomy of our program,” his email stated. “All revenue we generate will go directly to our program. The more we generate the deeper we can reach as a program while at the same time remaining within the USSA. If we want to have an A-Team, B-Team and Junior Team it is up to us. We need to think about all options, opportunities and ideas.”
Jarrett said he’d spent much of the last two days gathering information and talking to people like Dave Knoop of the National Nordic Foundation (NNF), which directly raises money for U.S. nordic combined and cross-country skiing, as well as Alan Johnson of USA Ski Jumping and Robbie Beck of Women’s Ski Jumping USA.
“‘[We’re] trying to just use this as a rallying cry for the nordic-combined community specifically, but also for everybody that this is around the corner for any program,” Jarrett said. “Instead of being pissed or feeling sorry for ourselves … we need to rally around this and find solutions. I think there’s solutions out there.”
While he aims to assemble as much support as possible and explore the idea of uniting all nordic sports — men’s and women’s ski jumping, nordic combined and cross-country skiing — into one autonomous entity, Jarrett’s also looking forward to getting nordic stakeholders together at the USSA Spring Congress in a month.
“We knew that this was always a possibility,” Jarrett explained. “While we wanted to be prepared for this, unless you win the Powerball or something, there’s no way to create a slush fund for a rainy day for this to happen. … I said it a few years ago after ski jumping: everybody now should be looking over their shoulder because you never know when it’s gonna fall. I don’t think there’s any program that’s safe from it, maybe alpine is the only one that they’re never gonna cut out, but that’s the fact of life. And we have to play the cards we’re dealt.”
As for what it would take to keep the nordic-combined program going, Jarrett said he wasn’t sure whether they’d decide to fund it from bottom up, starting with development, or take care of the elite A-team skiers first. Either way, he said 12 years of experience as a national-team coach had taught him what he can do with a million-dollar budget, half-a-million dollars, or $250,000 — whatever they end up with.
Bodensteiner told Steamboat Today that USSA had funded nordic combined between $580,000 and $650,000 annually for equipment, travel, lodging, food, coaches and wax technicians. In a four-year Olympic cycle, the cost added up to nearly $3 million. He said the decision was based on a number of factors, including nordic combined’s size, as measured by participation, membership, public relevance, and future potential.
“The main thing is that we need to be proactive, looking at all options, all partnerships,” Jarrett said. “We’re all in this kind of nebulous state and perhaps there’s a way to organize everybody or at least parts of it. We can be partners with USSA or partners with each other.”
Stay tuned for follow-up articles and updates.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.