In this space two seasons ago, I wrote about the improbable predictions of U.S. Ski Team CEO Bill Marolt, who boldly promised that his team would win 10 Olympic medals in 2002 and eventually bring home the alpine Nations Cup, awarded annually by SKI to the dominant country. This struck me as absurd, particularly because the team's trophy case includes not a single alpine Nations Cup. Being a positive soul, I argued that there were encouraging signs of life, and that if anyone could orchestrate such a dramatic turnaround it would be Marolt-who, after all, oversaw the U.S.'s last glory run for alpine dominance back in the early Eighties.
I can now admit that I spent the past 24 months backpedaling on my prediction that maybe Bill's promise could somehow come true. Until now. Finally, midway through the 2001 season, the alpine ski team has begun showing that it may have the depth and talent to win medals. By the World Championships break, the alpine team had three podium results in the most important event in skiing: giant slalom. U.S. racers finally broke through this season with the two best men's GS results since 1984 and the finest women's finish since 1994. Bode Miller, Erik Schlopy and Sarah Schleper are legit threats in GS and slalom, while four-time World Cup race winner Kristina Koznick is a slalom ace. On the speed side, veterans Daron Rahlves and Chad Fleischer offer a one-two punch, and the women's team is stocked with young over-achievers, led by all-arounder Caroline Lalive, plus Jonna Mendes and Kirsten Clark.
If the U.S. is to reach its goal of 10 medals, it likely will need five to seven medals from the other disciplines: freestyle, snowboard and nordic. The U.S. has owned freestyle over the last two decades, but the team is having an off season, partly due to an erratic year for the tour in general. With a slew of talented young skiers and hopes that returning gold medalists Jonny Moseley, Donna Weinbrecht and Eric Bergoust will return to form, the U.S. should be good for at least a couple of medals. Snowboarding also presents a cloudy crystal ball, but a medal or two or even three is not out of the question.
Then there are the nordic events, where Todd Lodwick is a contender in nordic combined, having won three World Cup events. Jumping is a longshot, and U.S. cross-country skiers have been foundering for 15 years. Yet in January, on the Olympic course at Soldier Hollow in Utah, Justin Wadsworth finished eighth in the 30k freestyle. That may sound pedestrian, but it is the best U.S. cross-country finish since...1984.
SKI's march toward the 2002 Olympics begins here with an Olympic travel planner (page 50), a profile of Mitt Romney and an inside look at the long, uphill battle that young U.S. cross-country skiers face ("Fast And Furious," page 68). It's just a sample of what's to come next season as the Winter Games return to the U.S. for the first time in 22 years.
Has Bill lost his mind? Am I a hopeless homer? Stay tuned.
You can reach Andy at email@example.com