PARK CITY, UT (Apr. 30) – Fourteen World Championship medals, including seven gold. Five World Cup titles with 32 wins. It was a remarkable season for U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Snowboarding athletes. With less than 10 months to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) President and CEO Bill Marolt is naturally excited, but also knows that athletes and staff now need to maintain a sense of urgency as they prepare this summer for the biggest two weeks of their careers.
The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver kick off with opening ceremonies next Feb. 12.
"I like where we are," said Marolt. "U.S. athletes had some historic success, but there's also a hunger to improve. Now is a critical time to focus squarely on the Olympics, build a sense of urgency and go all out to ensure that our athletes are completely prepared to show they are the best in the world in Vancouver. The time is now!"
That preparation will step up a few notches in May. U.S. Ski Team and U.S. Snowboarding athletes have moved into their new home as the USSA's new Center of Excellence opened in Park City, providing elite athletes with a world-class national training and education facility.
Vonn Dominates Alpine
Alpine ski racing was again awestruck with the dominance of Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO). She swept the speed events at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in France, winning the super G and the premier downhill title. She went on to repeat her World Cup overall and downhill titles, and added the first super G crown ever for an American woman. Along the way, she won nine World Cups and established herself as the most successful woman in U.S. history.
"Lindsey's attention to conditioning and following a strategic plan is clearly paying off for her," said Marolt. "She has a strong work ethic and graciously accepts the opportunity to be both a role model for youth and an ambassador for her sport."
Vonn, who grew up on small hills in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, was motivated at an early age by her role model Picabo Street, who won the World Cup downhill titles in 1995 and '96 before capturing Olympic gold. Today, Vonn is having the same impact on young aspiring athletes like her.
Olympic combined champion and 2008 World Cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) took bronze in the giant slalom for his first World Championships medal.
Record Six Nordic Medals
American nordic skiers wrote history in the Czech Republic, leading the medals count over Norway for the first half of the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships and taking six medals – four gold. In the 85-year history of World Championships, the USA had previously won only three.
Nordic combined skier Todd Lodwick (Steamboat Springs, CO), came back after two seasons of retirement to win the first two events, with defending silver medalist Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY) winning the third, plus picking up a bronze. Demong took five World Cup wins to finish the season third.
In cross country, Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) had a near miss, finishing fourth in the 15K classic by just over a second. A few days later, Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) won silver in the freestyle sprint – an historic first U.S. women's medal.
In ski jumping, Lindsey Van (Park City, UT) came from behind to take gold in the first women's ski jumping World Championship event.
"We're often asked, 'what are you doing differently?'" said Marolt. "The fact is, we're not doing anything differently other than having the perseverance to stick with a program over a long period of time. The nordic combined results by Todd and Billy have roots going back 15 to 20 years. And Kikkan acknowledged that her silver medal was 10 years in the making."
Jacobellis Stars in Snowboarding
Intensity describes Olympic silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis's (Stratton, VT) season. She came away with her best season ever, taking the World Cup snowboardcross title with five wins across a six-month schedule that began mid-September in Argentina. She also won her fifth X Games title, with teammate Nate Holland (Squaw Valley, CA) also taking his fifth.
In addition to Holland, Nick Baumgartner (Iron River, MI) took bronze at World Championships and Olympic champion Seth Wescott (Sugarloaf, ME) battled for the World Cup title before finishing second. Even 2002 Olympic halfpipe champion Ross Powers (Londonderry, VT) factored in this season, taking third in his first SBX World Cup in a decade at the Visa U.S. Snowboarding Cup at Sunday River, ME – an event won by Graham Watanabe (Sun Valley, ID).
"The qualifying to make our men's snowboardcross Olympic Team will be as intense as the Olympics," said Marolt. "We have a half-dozen athletes with medal potential, but only four can make the Team. That depth is a real tribute to the work they've done as athletes and how important this is for them."
In the superpipe, Olympic champion Shaun White (Carlsbad, CA) distinguished himself again winning the X Games. 2002 gold medalist Kelly Clark (Mt. Snow, VT) had one of her best seasons, taking the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix title. Both White and Clark won at the Olympic test event in Vancouver.
"The bar is set very high in snowboarding after our success in 2002 and 2006," said Marolt. "Our past medalists continue to be pushed by new athletes but have shown they're up to that challenge."
Kearney, Deneen, St. Onge Lead Freestyle
When Hannah Kearney (Norwich, VT) is in the starting gate, you can see the fire of desire in her eyes. After two years out with injuries, the 2005 World Champion came back with a vengeance to take the season-long World Cup moguls title, plus bronze in duals at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships in Japan.
Veteran Ryan St. Onge (Winter Park, CO) picked up crucial World Cup aerials wins at Utah's Deer Valley Resort and in Moscow, before capping his season with World Championship gold. Patrick Deneen (Cle Elum, WA) broke out of a pack of young U.S. moguls skiers to win his first career title at Worlds. Jen Hudak (Park City, UT), one of the young stars in the new sport of skier halfpipe, took a bronze.
"The one common denominator you will see with any one of our successful athletes is their work ethic," said Marolt. "Hannah Kearney is totally committed to preparing to win. She earned that crystal globe by what she did all summer long. She was ready and came out of the gate firing."
Kearney trains at home in Vermont, on her own. But she takes advantage of a unique visual coaching program with USSA Sport Science that closely monitors her progress and gives her constant feedback on conditioning.
Crucial Summer Ahead
What do ski and snowboarding athletes do in the spring? They get back in the gym and out onto the snow preparing for the season that opens this September and October. The results of 2008-09 are in the record books and the slate is clean leading to Vancouver.
U.S. Snowboarding athletes are already in the X Games superpipe in Aspen, CO for their first camp. It was a chance for riders to perfect new tricks in one of the world's best pipes. Other teams will be following suit with spring on-snow camps interspersed into a summer of dryland training. Freestyle aerialists will be back on water ramps in Park City and Lake Placid soon – launching thousands of twisting, turning, eye-blurring jumps to perfect new tricks.
A key component for every athlete, though, is the warmth of the gym where athletes like Vonn spend six to eight hours every day, all spring, summer and fall – sweating, toiling, reaching to new heights. The May opening of the new Center of Excellence will provide elite athletes in every sport an opportunity to prepare for Vancouver as a Team.
"This is a huge step for all of the athletes and for the USSA as an organization," Vonn said. "I'm really excited to be a part of the historic opening of this world class facility. Even more than having an incredible gym literally a mile away from my home, it's going to be awesome to see the top athletes from all the sports work out. It's also going to be huge for the club programs to have this facility as a resource."
"The Center of Excellence will pay great dividends for American athletes over many years, providing both elite athlete training and educational outreach for our 400 USSA clubs nationwide," said Marolt. "But for the next 10 months, it will help us keep a focus on Vancouver.
Marolt knows that as good a season as it was in 2008-09, what really counts is what happens from Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver.
"We've celebrated some great athletic success this past season," said Marolt. "But we need to maintain the focus on Vancouver, create that sense of urgency and go all out in the next 10 months. The time is now!"