Funding Scheme Pays Off For American Team

by
Reuters
Even without their two biggest names, Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, the American ski team are enjoying a great world championships, with two golds for Ted Ligety and a bronze for Julia Mancuso.

Even without their two biggest names, Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, the American ski team are enjoying a great world championships, with two golds for Ted Ligety and a bronze for Julia Mancuso.

Behind their success lies a well-financed back-up scheme, launched more than a decade ago for the Salt Lake City Olympics, that makes the United States Alpine ski team one of the richest in the world.

Since the scheme was set up ahead of the 2002 Winter Games, money has been pouring into the sport in the U.S. thanks to a board of trustees comprising business leaders and fans which collects funds for the country's ski association (USSA).

As a result, the annual budget of the USSA is estimated at 25 million dollars, one of the largest in the Alpine ski world, and has allowed the team to build state-of-the-art equipment and training facilities.

A superb training centre was constructed in Park City to help the racers get the best possible pre-season physical training and the advice of full-time medical staff.

The result is a new depth in the squad. While Miller, with his collection of Olympic, world and World Cup titles, is taking a season off, Vonn was forced out of the championships after an ugly crash in the women's super-G, the opening event in the competition last week, and flew home for knee surgery.

Up stepped Ligety, to take the first men's gold medal of these championships, the super-G. On Monday, he added a second gold in super-combined, the event he won at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.

Mancuso earned a solid bronze medal in the women's super-G, and narrowly missed the podium in Sunday's downhill when she was fifth and team mate Stacey Cook was sixth.

BETTER TRAINING

Ligety has benefited from a new, permanent speed course in Copper Mountain, Colorado, where it is possible to train for the downhill and super-G as early in the northern hemisphere season as late October.

"I trained harder and better than ever last summer at Park City and Copper Mountain during fall as I knew I had to drastically improve my potential to make the best of our new equipment," Ligety explained after his super-G win.

"The fact that we can intensively train for speed events at the U.S. Ski team Speed Centre in Copper Mountain in the last weeks before the start of the season is a huge advantage too," he added.

The Speed Centre was the fruit of a multi-million-dollar joint venture with the Powder Corporation, owners of the Copper Mountain resort, and its chairman John Cummings, who also leads the USSA Board of Trustees.

The centre is used by American skiers from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, though European teams are allowed to briefly rent the facilities before the World Cup races in Canada.

Rival teams have been impressed by the new facilities.

"They certainly have an advantage on us now, it partly explains their great results on the women's tour this winter," said one Austrian coach after five U.S. skiers reached podiums in World Cup speed events this season.

When in Europe, the American team, who have an Austrian as head coach in Patrick Riml, have a contract with the resort of Soelden, host of the season's opening giant slalom, to train.

World championship hosts Austria have been disappointed to win only two bronze medals so far, but the team like to claim some share of the American success.

"The U.S. Ski Team are like Austria Two," said Austrian Ski Federation president Peter Schroecksnadel. "The coaches are Austrian, they train in Austrian resorts, ski on Austrian skis. The only thing that is not Austrian is their birthplace.