John F. Russell: Mamas, don’t give up on us
April 17, 2004
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be ski jumpers. Don’t let ’em ride oversized Fischers and soar off them old jumps; make ’em be snowboarders, Alpine skiers and such.
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be ski jumpers. ‘Cause they’ll never be home, and they’re always alone, especially when the Olympics are so far off.
With apologies to Waylon Jennings, here we are, 663 days from the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, and that’s the song the U.S. Skiing Association seems to be singing to the members of the U.S. Ski Jumping Team.
The cold, hard fact is that in America, ski jumping struggles for attention, funding and the support it desperately needs to produce more big-name stars.
Last year, one skier represented the U.S. Ski Jumping Team on the World Cup Tour. If we’re lucky, they will have two this year.
In America. we choose to keep our ski jumping stars hidden, battling for the few development dollars the ski team has to offer in a domestic series.
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But since the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, a majority of the ski jumpers in the United States have been left to pay for coaching, travel and their journey to become contenders on their own.
The job of producing tomorrow’s stars has been left to the club system; the ski team’s role simply is to take the glory when good results start rolling in.
This approach has turned ski jumpers into sales people. They spend their free time recruiting sponsors — selling free space on their jump suits and helmets for the dollars they need to compete next year.
If you talk to the people at the USSA, they will tell you all of the winter sports have felt the sting of major budget cuts. It’s true that those cuts have impacted every part of the USSA, from Alpine to snowboarding. But only the special jumping team, which had one of the smallest budgets to begin with, was cut back to a single skier.
In a system where the amount of support a team gets is tied to the frequency of getting on the podium, the special jumping squad has found itself in a destructive cycle.
In today’s competitive world, the skiers who produce are rewarded. The ski team feels the need to use its limited resources to produce today’s medals — not tomorrow’s.
But how will the United States ever be competitive in ski jumping if it doesn’t invest in athletes at the development level? And why would athletes want to become a part of a team that drops them like hot potatoes when the Olympic TV cameras switch off?
Luckily, there are places such as Steamboat Springs where the tradition and love of the sport continues to produce new athletes. These jumpers know they will face financial challenges. And their chances of getting rich from their sport? Well, they would be better off playing the lottery.
So mamas may not want their babies to grow up to be ski jumpers, but in Ski Town, USA we love jumpers and cowboys.