Aspen’s Jake Zamansky returns to U.S. Ski Team
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Jake Zamansky was ready to walk away.
It was one week before last Christmas, and the 27-year-old Aspen skier was struggling mentally, physically and financially. He failed to finish in the season’s first three World Cup races. He had yet to find his stride, largely the result of limited offseason training (he shattered his collarbone in a motor bike accident in the summer, which kept him off snow for nearly three months).
Monetary pressures were also mounting. In June 2008, the U.S. Ski Team let him go after nine seasons on the B, C and Development squads for failing to meet U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association criteria.
Consequently, Zamansky served as his own technician and travel agent, bought his own skis and leaned heavily on sponsors for funds, which he now estimates approached $30,000.
“I said I was going bankrupt, and now I’m pretty much there,” Zamansky said Wednesday from his home in Park City, Utah.
He prepared for Dec. 21’s World Cup giant slalom in Alta Badia, Italy, believing the race might be his last.
“I was struggling pretty bad and trying to decide if I wanted to continue,” Zamansky said. “I went into that race with absolutely nothing to lose.”
He skied like it, qualifying for a second run for the first time in his career. He wound up 24th.
His future uncertain, Zamansky returned to Aspen for Christmas. He had yet to buy a plane ticket to return to Europe, even though he was slated to compete in early January.
Zamansky said he needed time to take a breath. He needed time to take stock of his career and to recharge.
He found that much-needed perspective on Aspen’s familiar slopes.
“I went home and skied with my family and friends for the first time in years, skiing from the early morning until the lifts closed in the afternoon,” he remembered. “I was having fun. I found my love for skiing again. … It had nothing to do with ski racing.
“I decided to go back to Europe and give it another shot.”
The 2008-2009 season proved to be his most successful yet. He finished 27th in his next start – Jan. 10’s World Cup GS in Adelboden, Switzerland – and qualified for his first World Championships. In February, he took 15th in a GS in Sestriere.
That string of results vaulted Zamansky from 51st to 36th in the GS world rankings.
Soon, the U.S. Ski Team came calling. Tuesday, Zamansky was officially named to the B team. The 2009-2010 campaign will be his 10th with the squad.
The promotion was met with mixed emotions.
“I knew it was coming, it wasn’t a big surprise. I guess that the biggest thing is that I don’t really trust them anymore until I see something on paper,” he said. “You know, it’s just the way some of the stuff went down. I felt it was unprofessional to treat somebody like that, and what I’ve seen them do to other athletes. It is a business and it is performance-based, but you can treat humans better than they do at times.
“When you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not. It’s hit or miss, but you have to look a little deeper than that sometimes.”
Zamansky will continue to chart his own course this season – and foot most of the bill to do so. Financial difficulties have severely hampered the U.S. Ski Team’s ability to fund athletes, and he has been asked to raise about $20,000 this season, Zamansky said.
While he will receive free skis and be exposed to prime coaching and training opportunities (he’s heading to New Zealand later this summer for three weeks), Zamansky will serve as his own technician again and has chosen to book his own flights and handle the logistics.
“It worked for me last year. It’s nice to be in charge of the program,” he said. “Being with the team, I’ve requested to have as much input and be able to manage my schedule as much as possible. I am a veteran at this, and I feel l know what I need best.”
While the challenges were great last season, Zamansky said he relished the chance to prove his mettle. He’s hoping the experience will pay off with another strong season – and a possible Winter Olympics berth.
Either way, Zamansky is glad he didn’t abandon racing. And he’s looking forward to the opportunities ahead.
“My issues with [The U.S. Ski Team], I’m putting that in the past as much as I can,” he said. “I was doing it for me [last year], and that was one of the biggest differences compared to the past. I was always trying to post results to make the coaches happy. … I was always concerned with doing what I was capable of, but for the wrong reasons. … Every time I go skiing now, I smile, I laugh, I have fun. It’s not a job anymore. I’m not getting paid to ski anymore. … It’s all about going out there and doing it for the love of the sport.
“It took me having everything taken away to realize what I needed.”
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