Marolt sticks with bold predictions for Olympics
Aspen native Bill Marolt hasn’t backed off bold predictions for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team in the Winter Olympics despite tumultuous times for star racer Bode Miller.Marolt, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association for the last decade, said he sees no reason to abandon the 2005-06 motto of “Best in the World – the Time is Now.”In a recent telephone interview from his Park City, Utah, office before he left for Turin, Italy, Marolt said the team’s strong performance over the last decade leads him to believe it can be the best at these Olympics.”I’ve said this a lot – we’re not the best in the world, but we have a chance to be,” Marolt said.That will require earning more medals than any other country. Just how many that will take, Marolt wouldn’t guess. “It’s really, really hard to say. It’s going to be spread out more this year,” he said. He expects Austria and Germany to be strong in alpine events and Norway to dominate nordic events. The U.S. team is strongest in freestyle and snowboarding.
But inconsistency plagues the women’s ski team. And the men’s ski team is somewhat of an enigma. Miller won the overall World Cup title last season and was poised for a monster season, including a strong showing in the Olympics. But he seemed to invite off-course controversy in media interviews this season, and he has been mired in mediocrity in many races.After Miller made a splash by talking about partying hard and apparently racing while massively hung over on “60 Minutes” last month, Marolt made an unscheduled trip to Europe to talk to his team’s young star.”I had a good meeting with him. It was not contentious,” Marolt said.He said he stressed to Miller that he has to be particularly careful with what he says in the media because a star’s comments get magnified. His position as a star on the ski team also makes him a role model, regardless of whether he wants to be, Marolt said.”You’re held to a higher standard,” he said.Marolt is no stranger to pressure in the international ski arena. After growing up in Aspen in the 1940s and ’50s, he enrolled at the University of Colorado and competed on the ski team, winning an NCAA downhill championship in 1965, and the slalom and combined titles the next year.He was a member of the U.S. team during the 1962 and 1966 World Championships as well as the 1964 Olympics. He later led CU to glory as the ski coach and oversaw the U.S. men’s ski team’s prominence as alpine director starting in 1979.
After working as CU’s athletic director from 1984 to 1996, Marolt became the CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Since then, the team has consistently improved, taking 15 medals in last year’s World Championships. Marolt is also credited with cultivating financial security for the organization.Given the success, he goes to Turin with confidence, not apprehension.”Naturally you feel pressure,” he said. “The question isn’t if you feel it, it’s how you react to it.”Miller shows no signs of cracking under the pressure he is facing. He said in published reports that he had no regrets about recent controversial statements. Miller has said the controversy won’t interfere with his skiing at the Olympics. Marolt said he believes that’s true.Marolt seemed to pick his words carefully when discussing whether Miller’s situation would be a distraction for the men’s team or ruin Miller’s chances for a dominating performance. He said the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team has numerous athletes who possess the skills to perform well. A strong performance at Turin isn’t centered on any one athlete. Some will use the pressure of the Olympics as motivation, he said.”It really is a mental exercise. Coach [Bill] McCartney used to say that mental is to physical what four is to one,” Marolt said, referring to the former CU football coach who led the Buffaloes to a national title.When asked if U.S. racer Daron Rahlves will benefit from having all the media attention deflected onto Miller, Marolt quickly responded that Rahlves “doesn’t need or want” the pressure off him. Rahlves is a fierce competitor who is “unmatched” in his drive and hunger to compete and win, Marolt said. He is a leading contender in the downhill, super G and giant slalom.
“He’s in the game to get the wins,” Marolt said.Even if the U.S. Olympic Team reaches the goal of being the best in the world at the Olympics, Marolt, 62, sounded like a man who has more he wants to accomplish in his post. Building a national training center at Park City is among his goals.Marolt said he will visit Aspen, but moving back “would be a stretch.” Both sets of his grandparents were attracted to Aspen when it was a prosperous, young mining town. His dad was a miner at Midnight Mine.”We were lucky to grow up in Aspen,” he said.Marolt is well aware of the town’s success with the ESPN Winter X Games and believes that competition will help solidify Aspen’s international reputation as a leading ski resort. Although the X Games draw tens of thousands of fans to Aspen while World Cup races are largely ignored, Marolt said ski racing doesn’t need a face-lift. It could make some changes, though, he said.”We have to focus on what we do,” he said. “We are what we are. It’s up to us to sell ourselves and our sport.”However, he said the World Cup format needs to be examined to make it more spectator-friendly. The field size could be limited, for example, to create a 45- or 60-minute race. And perhaps mixing in more team competition would also be wise, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com