USSA CEO Bill Marolt set on being the world’s best
ASPEN – Bill Marolt is accustomed to moving full speed ahead.On Friday, on the eve of the Winternational World Cup races on Aspen Mountain and mere months before a new crop of athletes looks to make its mark in Vancouver, the member of Aspen’s first family of skiing and current head of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association took a moment to reminisce.He remembers training on Aspen Mountain in early 1960 when he and a group of friends first devised a plan to drive to California to watch Marolt’s older brother Max in action at the Winter Olympics. They convinced some parents to hand over the keys to a Buick station wagon. Soon, six of them were on their way to Squaw Valley.”It was fun to watch my brother compete – he was one of my heroes,” Marolt said as he lounged in the St. Regis lobby. “And the European guys that I had been thinking about since I was 8, 9 and 10, suddenly I’m seeing them compete in person.”In 1964, Marolt found himself in the starting gates at the Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. At just 20 years of age, he competed in giant slalom, finishing 12th. The memories are still fresh nearly 46 years later.”I was a young kid and was very fortunate to be on the team,” Marolt said. “It’s when we really grew from a small national program into a full-blown national team. … It was the background for everything I’ve done as an athlete, a coach and an administrator.”When you get into an Olympic year, it’s a special season. You develop a high sense of urgency. You’re more focused, more determined. All that pressure and hype create a really cool feeling. … When you’re standing there, you know what’s at stake and are prepared to give it your best shot.”Marolt is hoping America’s best shot produces tangible results in British Columbia come February. While the U.S. alpine contingent fell short of its stated goals at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy, Marolt proudly points out that, organization-wide, the team produced 10 medals – five of them gold. The pieces are in place to take another step forward this time around, said Marolt, a decorated former U.S. Ski Team coach who also served a highly successful stint as athletic director at the University of Colorado.”We always talk about being the best in the world. That’s our vision,” he added. “We define that as winning more medals than any other team. … We clearly want to be better this year than we’ve ever been.”When we evaluate the organization, across the board, our top people compete very well internationally and can go toe-to-toe with anyone.”Chief among that group on the women’s side is Lindsey Vonn, who has won two World Cup overall crowns – a feat no other American woman can claim. Vonn’s success has garnered a level of popularity that has transcended her sport. This offseason alone, she juggled time spent on snow with appearances across the country, in advertisements and on the late-night circuit. She even threw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game.Count Marolt among the group of admirers of the 25-year-old from Vail.”First of all, she’s a terrific person. She has the right values, the right understanding, the right perspective,” he said, grinning. “She’s an ambassador for the ski team, but really for the sport. … We’ve had some good alpine ski racers, and the alpine program has good tradition. She has just built upon that.”Everywhere you go, you look at successful athletes and see that sort of passion and drive like a Lindsey Vonn. … Those are unique characters.” Vonn wasted little time assuming her spot on the podium this season after finishing second in Nov. 14’s slalom in Levi, Finland – despite slamming into a gate and nearly being knocked off course during the final run.While she has never finished better than seventh in Olympic competition (2006’s super G held in San Sicario, Italy), Vonn, who has demonstrated strength in all disciplines, is heavily favored to medal in February. The U.S. also expects much from Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic giant slalom champion, who, by all accounts, has put last season’s string of nagging injuries and inconsistent performances behind her. “Without question, it’s athletics at its best,” Marolt said of the Olympics. “Of course [I get nervous]. You have to invest yourself into the organization and be passionate and enthusiastic. … The athletes have to know that the person leading them is as invested as they are.”You never know how the story is going to unfold. That’s the beauty and joy of it.”First, there’s a story to be written in Aspen. Many are hoping it ends with an American climbing the podium for the first time in four years and nine races. Vonn came close last November, finishing fourth in both slalom and giant slalom. Mancuso and Vail’s Sarah Schleper finished seventh and 13th, respectively, in giant slalom. “We have one weekend a year when our athletes have home-field advantage. We want our athletes on the podium. That creates a certain level of excitement and interest,” Marolt said. “We come into this year feeling like we’ve done the work to prepare. Morale is high. … We have a good feel for what challenges are ahead.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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