PRAGELATO, Italy (Feb. 23) – The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association is expanding its program support of cross country skiing, according to USSA Vice President of Athletics Alan Ashley. The new initiatives, designed to impact the program for the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games by building on the successes of the past several seasons, will feature both expanded World Cup support and the re-start of an athletic development program for the 2006-07 competition season.
“We’ve made some great progress in cross country with a relatively small program,”said Ashley. “And we also know that to help our U.S. athletes get to the top level internationally, we have to provide more program support. Our cross country athletic leadership has done a great job demonstrating that U.S. athletes can perform among the best. As a company we will provide increased support for those programs that provide our cross country athletes with greater opportunities to be Best in the World.”
USSA’s program initiatives will focus on three areas: elite-level World Cup support, athletic development programs and coaches education. World Cup support and athletic development programs will be implemented beginning in 2006-07, with coaches’ education programs to come later. The announcement was made as the 2006 Olympic Winter Games head into their final days.
“Our athletes are at a level now that our management recognizes that we really need to add these additional pieces of support to allow them to move up,” said U.S. Nordic Program Director Luke Bodensteiner. “When we see athletes like Kris Freeman (Andover, NH), Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) and Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) have such strong results, you know we have some things going well. But it’s good to know that we can start providing more support for them and for the many young and talented athletes coming up our athletic pipeline.”
World Cup support will include a range of initiatives including additional national team athlete support, increased support staff such as coaches or ski technicians, and greater access to sport science and technology support. Athletic development support will include both athlete and staff support for Continental Cup programs including the North American SuperTour and the European OPA Cup.
“Our first steps are two-fold,” said Bodensteiner. “First, we need to provide our existing elite-level athletes with a stronger program. We may expand our number of athletes at that level slightly, but our focus will be on quality programs.
“Secondly, we need to rejuvenate the development programs we’ve started in the past but have not been able to fully maintain. These are programs open to a fully inclusive, large pool of young athletes. Right now, we don’t have a way to get those young athletes the exposure to international racing, which they need. The Continental Cup experience in North America and, especially, Europe is critical to our long-term success.”
According to Ashley, program support budget expansion will come from USSA’s centralized funding. “We have a strong planning process that allows us to look at athletic initiatives from all sports and make company decisions on how we can fund those programs,” said Ashley. “We have confidence in the direction cross country is taking and want to be able to support those athletes as a matter of company priority.”
Over the past few years, U.S. cross country skiers have recorded stronger results. Newell’s fourth-place finish in a World Cup sprint event in January was the best World Cup result in more than 20 years. Newell qualified second Wednesday in the Olympic sprint, and finished 11th – the best U.S. men’s Olympic result since Bill Koch’s second and sixth place finishes in 1976. Randall’s ninth in the Olympic sprint was the all-time best U.S. women’s Olympic result.